Local leader in historic preservation dies

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Frank Schultz
Friday, November 1, 2013

JANESVILLE—Jackie Wood remembers Richard Hartung rushing around the city, trying to find someone who could stop the destruction of the Myers Theater.

Hartung put his heart and soul into saving the old opera house, but he did not win that battle, Wood said. The site is now a bank drive-through at the corner of Milwaukee Street and Parker Drive.

Hartung was an early leader in local historic preservation efforts, however, and worked to raise the  consciousness about local historical treasures. He died Wednesday at age 75.

Hartung came to Janesville in 1964 to become director of the Rock County Historical Society, a job he held for 25 years.

“He had a broad wealth of knowledge about architecture and history. You could ask him anything, and he could just tell you off the top of his head,” Wood said.

Wood, who is president of the society's board today, was on the board for much of Hartung's tenure. She became a friend of Rick, as he was known, and Rick's wife, Ilah, who survives him.

“He did a lot to promote the history of Janesville,” Wood said. “He loved history. He loved the history of Janesville and became quite absorbed in it.”

Hartung, a native of Columbus, Ohio, got his bachelor's degree from the University of Chicago. He was still in his 20s when he arrived in Janesville. He never left.

Hartung hired Maurice Montgomery to be the society's curator of collections and encouraged Montgomery to become a local resource for historical knowledge.

Montgomery, now retired, remains the go-to guy for local history.

“He got us very much involved in the historic preservation movement. We did a lot of work on the historic homes in Janesville and writing nominations to the National Register of Historic Places,” Montgomery recalled.

Janesville was once noted as having the most buildings per capita listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and that was due to Hartung's efforts, Montgomery said.

The National Register, created by law in 1966, provides recognition and financial incentives to owners of properties on the list. It does not ensure preservation, however, and Hartung lamented the loss of a number of local buildings over the years.

“He worked hard to encourage the community to preserve its historic buildings,” Montgomery recalled.

Hartung also is responsible for the walking tours of Janesville's historic neighborhoods, which are still available today, Montgomery said.

“He was very proud of this community and what it had done and how it looked, and he wanted all of us to appreciate it,” Montgomery said. “I think it's a wonderful legacy.”

Services for Hartung have not yet been scheduled. Wood said a memorial service is likely.

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