Archivist preserves her place
Community: Rural Janesville
Family: Husband of 60 years, Ken Demrow; son, Steven Demrow, 59, of Algonquin, Ill.; daughter, Sharon Clark, 52, of rural Orfordville; and another son, the late William "Bill" Demrow
Books: Histories of the area written by others, including friends
Philosophy on life: If you're going to do something, do it well, not halfway.
A rural Janesville woman likes history. She like finding it, organizing it, and sharing it. Demrow is featured as one of the Janesville Gazette's "People Who Matter". Kyle Geissler reports.
JANESVILLE If Kay Demrow isn't at the Luther Valley Historical Society archiving or researching history, she's most likely in her home office doing the same thing.
"It keeps me busy and fills my life up a little bit more with meaning. I don't want to die in a rocking chair doing absolutely nothing," she said.
Odds are that won't happen.
Demrow is archivist, treasurer, newsletter editor and speaker for the society. During the past two years, she has volunteered 2,050 hours and logged more than 10,000 miles traveling between her rural Janesville home and the society in Footville.
Genealogies of Demrow's and her husband's families fill glass-encased bookshelves in their home office. On a card table and on other shelves, between her and her husband's desks and computers, are more historical census records, plat maps, diaries, church, town and cemetery records. She is working on them or already has indexed, transcribed, researched, organized and compiled them into booklets and books.
"The amount of her volunteer time is phenomenal. She is tireless, dedicated, driven and modest," said Margie Douglas Boylen, society president.
Demrow, who has survived two knee replacements and breast cancer and endured the deaths of a son and grandson, is direct. She also is hard working, a trait that was instilled in her at a young age as the oldest of five siblings growing up on the family farm.
After retiring and helping her father chart his family genealogy, Demrow got interested in history and began volunteering in 1991 at the society. Since then, the group's membership has grown from five to 200 members, she said.
Although her time spent collecting and preserving the history of Southwestern Wisconsin benefits others, it also fills an emptiness for Demrow since her son killed himself.
"That's one of the reasons why I do history—to keep my mind occupied," she said as tears pooled in her eyes.
Demrow was on her knees crawling from tombstone to tombstone in Center Cemetery doing historical society research the day her son died. Fourteen years later, she still hasn't gone back.
"I know he's gone, learned to live with it. But going back there brings back immediately the whole chain of events," Demrow said.
Still Demrow has never lost her intrigue with history that she believes must be preserved and shared.
"It's addictive to find out all the stuff," she said. "How can you go ahead if you don't know what happened in the lives of the people before you?"
Demrow also was instrumental in saving Rock County's property tax records, which are now stored in the basement tunnels of the courthouse.
For her efforts, she received the 2008 Governor's Award for Archival Advocacy and also was inducted into the Rock County Hall of Honor in 2007.
"I don't think I'm deserving of any of them," Demrow said. "To get an award for something I enjoy doing is redundant. I don't do it because I want to get an honor. I just like doing it. I was embarrassed."
Boylen said she is deserving.
"Rock County would not have the wealth of genealogy and historical records it does were it not for dedicated historians like Kay."