Dozens of community members attended a ceremony to honor the heritage of Winona, the daughter of Potawatomi chief Baw Beese, whose statue was revealed in Mrs. Stock’s Park on Friday.
The Heritage Association organized the statue’s reveal, and Hillsdale College faculty members, donors who contributed to the Winona project, and city and state officials all came to support the community effort. The ceremony honored the dedication sculptor Heather Tritchka ’98 had poured into the project as well as the heritage the statue represents.
“History is tangible here,” said Professor of History Brad Birzer, who spoke at the event. “Winona is not just a spirit anymore — she has a body. We’re honoring this very interesting and mixed person. Even though we don’t know a lot about her, whoever she is — she is immortalized here.”
Winona, remembered as the princess of Hillsdale, is said to have suffered an abusive marriage at the hands of her alcoholic husband, who her father forced her to marry. She plunged a knife into her husband’s heart after he returned home from selling her beloved white pony — given as a gift from Chief Baw Beese — in a drunken stupor and began beating her. Because of her tribe’s deep-rooted traditions, her father was forced to sentence Winona to death.
U.S. Rep. Tim Walberg, R-Tipton, said the Winona statue is a reminder that the community has an opportunity to make “positive history” that will inspire growth for decades to come.
“Right now, we have a chance to make history, through history, and carry it on to the future,” he said.
The Winona statue is a testament of what a community can do when it comes together, City Manager David Mackie said.
“This ceremony is the culmination of the dedication of many people,” he said. “It reminds me of what a community truly is — individuals working together to create ordinary and extraordinary things.”
The Winona statue was Tritchka’s project for the past 15 months. What began as her idea became a community project, she said.
“There was this feeling of collaboration — a community spirit to accomplish a goal,” Tritchka said. “It was an unexpected surprise.”
Tritchka, who also sculpted Hillsdale College’s Winston Churchill statue, formed the Heritage Association in 2016 as a result of the overwhelming support from the community for the project, she said. The organization’s mission is to preserve and promote Hillsdale’s heritage, and it has grown to include a youth council — another unexpected surprise, said Connie Sexton, a Heritage Association member.
The Heritage Association recognized members of the youth council during the ceremony for their involvement in preserving local history. The youth council helped Tritchka and Sexton fundraise for the Winona statue.
“We wanted to get the younger generation involved with community service and teach them leadership skills,” Sexton said. “They have gone above and beyond.”
The Winona statue is just the beginning, however. Tritchka said the Heritage Association’s next project will be a bronze statue of Hillsdale’s indigenous animals. The youth council began fundraising for the black bear project a few months ago, and Tritchka said she hopes to complete it by fall of 2018.
Eventually, Tritchka said she hopes to create a life-size bronze statue of Chief Baw Beese.
Mackie said the city will continue to support the Heritage Association’s efforts of bringing Hillsdale’s history to life.
“It’s things like this that make Hillsdale a great place to live, work, and call home,” he said.