By Natalie Conrad
Herald Staff Writer
FULTON, Ill. —
Millers and educators from de Immigrant Windmill spent days immersed in Irish mill culture on their most recent adventure.
Millers Heidi Kolk and Judy Holesinger and educators Betty Wiebenga and Pam VanZuiden made the journey to Skerries, Ireland, in mid-October to learn about the culture, preservation and history behind the Irish windmills.
“It’s so important and rewarding to connect with millers from another culture,” Kolk said. “We’re so focused on Dutch culture here, it takes us out of our comfort zone. It’s especially important, because here at the Windmill Cultural Center we represent 10 countries.”
The four women spent four days at Skerries Mills, immersing themselves in the culture and inner workings of the 12-acre complex that includes a water mill, two windmills, a café and a two-story gift shop.
What they found was an atmosphere much unlike Fulton’s own mill.
“It was interesting to observe how they handled the community, heritage, marketing and events,” Holesinger said.
This exchange program was intended to provide a learning experience for both mills, making a visit from Irish millers in the future very likely. The two facilities had much to learn from each other.
Skerries benefits from paid staff, admission fees and big events, while Fulton thrives from dedicated volunteers, educational programs and a focus on different cultures and history.
“It was a great experience. The people were some of the friendliest and happiest I’ve met, despite the state of their economy,” Wiebenga said. “They were very open to learn about our educational programs.”
During their stay, the group went to Saint Patrick School and spoke to students about de Immigrant Windmill.
Van Zuiden offered storytelling about floods and the group showed a presentation on the mill and its background. In addition to Skerries Mill, Holesinger and VanZuiden went on to visit a total of 12 mills in Ireland.