Where Past Meets Present

Ron and Margaret Delaney in front of the mural of Janesville

History Makers 2019 Good Neighbor Award – Ron and Margaret Delaney

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“We own property here, we are members of this community, we feel a moral obligation to take care of our neighborhood.” ~ Margaret Delaney

By Teresa Nguyen
RCHS HistoryTeller

How did you become active in improving the Look West neighborhood?

We have been members of this neighborhood for 40 years. We originally moved here to be closer to our parents.

At one point, we were debating working on our home, but we weren’t sure we wanted to really stay because crime was on the rise in the neighborhood. People were afraid to walk on the streets.

I began working with the Neighborhood Action Team, which had originally started with Community Action, which was a group with the Fourth Ward. A half-year later, they organized a group in our Look West neighborhood. In 2006 and 2007, we would meet separately and got together only at Christmastime.

Historic neighborhoods of Janesville, Wisconsin

Historic neighborhoods of Janesville, Wisconsin

Around 2008, we saw we needed for the neighborhoods to join forces to combat the same neighborhood issues and problems. Everyone who was on that Neighborhood Action Team is still working for the good of the neighborhoods.

We had a new police chief, and in that process of both neighborhoods working together with the police and city hall, we’ve changed the look of the neighborhood. That also created a positive change for the Lincoln-Tallman House and the Rock County Historical Society.

The Delaney Home

The Delaney Home

Tell me about your own historic home restoration.

We made an offer and signed the papers in early 1979. We joined the Rock County Historical Society within months of moving into this house.

We had a 30-amp service on this house; the minimum now is 100. So, we couldn’t even have all the lights on when we saw the house! When we had the TV on and the refrigerator and the microwave, everything went to half power. The picture went right off the TV! So, we requested to have a new 200-amp service put on this house.

At that time, Ron was an electrician, and he did some work on the Lincoln-Tallman House in the basement to get it up to regulation code.

When we started out, we either had time and no money, or money and no time. It wasn’t until 2005 – 2006, when Ron was getting ready to retire, that we got serious about remodeling the home.

The neighborhood was changing for the better, so in 2009, Marthea Riley painted a beautiful mural of early Janesville on our dining room walls. It depicts the entire city all the way around; the downtown, Courthouse Hill, south and then west. It includes all the main corridors and railroad tracks, the northwest area toward the Janesville Country Club with the Rock River running through it all. The mural comes back around to the Rock County Historical Society. She even painted the Lincoln-Tallman house across the street!

Marthea inserted our family members into her gorgeous mural. At that time, Marthea was already working with RCHS, helping with the Lincoln-Tallman House tours.

Ron and Margaret Delaney in front of the mural of Janesville

Ron and Margaret Delaney in front of the mural of Janesville

To look at this house, what it was when we bought it, and what we’ve put into it is incredible! In spite of everything that’s happened, it’s been a good neighborhood and a good house.

It’s helped our kids understand where we came from. Living here, they’ve learned about a different side of life, witnessing kids whose families couldn’t afford a bike. And it’s helped to make them better people.

Tell me about being on the Historic Home tour.

I started becoming involved in 2009 with Marthea Riley. We were working on changing the neighborhood safety and the public perception. Things were getting better. In 2010, the RCHS began the Historic Home Tours in the Fourth Ward District. I was in charge of writing up all the history on the homes through the RCHS Archives. Then, our own home was on the tour in 2011.

The last neighborhood, for which I wrote all the history and information for the homes, was Prospect Hill in 2012. That was the same year Mike Reuter came in as Executive Director, and the year I was diagnosed with breast cancer.

Why is preserving historic homes important to both of you?

We’re part of the community. After some of the big companies left Janesville, you have to move on, so you have to start with baby steps.

In 2008, when GM left, if we had not been in the process of revitalizing our neighborhoods, my fear is that we could have lost Fourth Ward and Look West. When you lose a neighborhood, it doesn’t just take a decade, it takes a lot longer than that to come back, if ever.

We had beautiful old homes here, and we eventually realized how important they all are. Old neighborhoods are different from new neighborhoods. On average, people stay and live in these homes 20-30 years. We had a lady, who recently moved out, who had been here for 60 years!

When you live in a historical neighborhood, you care. And you care about everybody around you.

What sparked your own interest in history?

When I was younger in college, I worked cleaning houses with Mrs. Yeomans. At that time, she was working on a project to move the Stone House to the Rock County Historical Society. She had asked me to wash the windows for pay. That was my first connection to a historical home. Later on, I found out that the Stone House had belonged to my godfather’s family when they first moved to Janesville in the 1940’s.

When Ron walked into this house, he knew it was the house we wanted to live in. It was home. The previous owner wanted to take out this beautiful woodwork. Ron’s dad was a master carpenter, so he knew a few things about woodwork and wanted to save it.

Our daughter, Brenda, did a computer project on history for school and that got us interested even more.

The Lincoln-Tallman House as seen from the Delaney Home

The Lincoln-Tallman House as seen from the Delaney Home

What has it been like being a neighbor to RCHS?

When we moved in, the Lincoln-Tallman house never had lights on at night. Of course, no one was living in it, so no one was there at night. It took some time for us to adjust to that. When we first came here, Rick Hartung was the Executive Director.

At that time, it was very much a museum center and people lined up to see it. We began to realize that this was a significant piece of Janesville’s history and of the community as a whole.

We also learned to mow our grass on Monday because the Lincoln-Tallman House wasn’t open on Monday and we wouldn’t bother the tourists.

As things changed over the years, we felt the need to watch over the house. We didn’t specifically set out to do that, it just happened over time.

Since 2006, we’ve gone over to snow blow the sidewalks and help with various maintenance needs. Some of the older ladies, who had once worked there, couldn’t keep up with shoveling or give the tours very easily with all that snow.

Things have improved over the last decade. We have been told that because of our efforts in improving the neighborhood, that has in a way helped bring in more people to the RCHS campus.

Sometimes we see people who are visiting the hospital who need to take a walk, just to have a break. And because the street is all lit up now, they will walk the neighborhood even in the evenings!

Good Neighbor Award

The Good Neighbor Award is given to an individual or community organization for the continued preservation and care of a historic home or neighborhood in Rock County. What inspires you to give back?

You can’t hire enough people from the city to take care of everything. We own property here, we are members of this community, we feel a moral obligation to take care of our neighborhood.

When I was ill with cancer treatments and Ron had hurt his knee, the neighborhoods came and cared for us! They bought us groceries and shoveled the sidewalks for us. What goes around comes around.

I watched my mother helping others, my grandmother helped others. I was shown that. Ron’s parents grew up during the Depression in the Switchtrack Alley area of Beloit. The people of their neighborhood cared for each other then, setting an example for him, as well.

You can’t care for the whole world, or even the whole city, but you can care for where you live.

What does this award mean to you?

Well, we think there are other people who are just as involved, just as caring! But, it does feel good. It’s nice to be rewarded when you do something from the heart, not because you’re being paid for it.

Are you excited the History Makers event?

Yes, we are! We haven’t missed any of the RCHS History Makers events yet!