Wimbledon party celebrates singer Peggy Lee’s legacyShe was a singer, songwriter, actress, artist and still is the pride of North Dakota. Peggy Lee would have turned 90 years old on Wednesday and this small town where she went to high school remembered her with stories and songs. More than 80 people showed up for Peggy Lee’s birthday tea party Wednesday afternoon at St. John’s Methodist Church in Wimbledon to swap stories and share memories.
By: Ben Rodgers, The Jamestown Sun
WIMBLEDON, N.D. — She was a singer, songwriter, actress, artist and still is the pride of North Dakota.
Peggy Lee would have turned 90 years old on Wednesday and this small town where she went to high school remembered her with stories and songs.
More than 80 people showed up for Peggy Lee’s birthday tea party Wednesday afternoon at St. John’s Methodist Church in Wimbledon to swap stories and share memories.
Originally born as Norma Deloris Egstrom in Jamestown, Lee graduated from Wimbledon High School in 1937. Her father was a station agent for the now-defunct Midland Continental Railroad in Wimbledon.
“I can see her walking across the street like it was yesterday,” said Virginia Lulay, an 86-year-old lifetime resident of Wimbledon. Lulay was in seventh grade when Lee was a senior at the high school.
Back in 1985, Lulay tried to get Lee to return to Wimbledon for a class reunion but she didn’t have her address. So she wrote the “The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson” because she saw Lee on the program.
Carson’s staff got in touch with Lulay and provided contact information for the singer. Lulay brought Lee’s reply letter with stories of Wimbledon and read it aloud at the party.
Another long-time Barnes County resident, 94-year-old Peggy Rose, knew Lee for two years in high school. Rose’s father was the first station agent at the depot where Lee later lived upstairs.
She recalled one night when the two of them went on a double date.
“We double dated and she crawled out the window and we helped her out and back in,” Rose said.
In between stories, the guests sampled teas and treats served by 10 girls from Barnes County North High School.
Stories about Peggy Lee’s life in Wimbledon were on hand from people who knew her first-hand but the music of Kate Stevenson and Carrie Kraft showcased how most people remember Lee.
Stevenson, on vocals, and Kraft, on piano, played a set of more than 10 songs, all Lee originals, in the sultry jazz style that made Lee famous.
“She is a celebrated North Dakotan and her music is something we won’t forget,” said Wes Anderson, curator of the Barnes County Historical Society.
The Barnes County Historical Society is working with the Wimbledon Museum and the Midland Railroad Depot Restoration Committee to transform the depot where Lee once lived into an interpretive center celebrating her legacy.
“She’s one of the daughters of Wimbledon,” Peterson said. “It’s fun to watch people getting excited about something that happened years ago.”
Carol Peterson, president of the Midland Railroad Depot Restoration Committee, spoke about the process, which has been formalized for three years.
But 20 years ago, the vision of the interpretive center belonged to Myrna Bultma, who left $20,000 in seed money when she passed away, Peterson said.
Bids for the center will open on June 13 in Bismarck and Peterson hopes to start construction in the fall and have it completed by Sept. 30, 2011.
The interpretive center will feature exhibits on what the 1930s were like in Wimbledon. Upstairs where Lee lived there will be a room dedicated to her music where people can listen to her songs and view some of her dresses.
Lee’s accomplishments include three No.1 hits, an Oscar nomination, a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award and a career spanning six decades.
Sun reporter Ben Rodgers can be reached at 701-952-8455 or by e-mail at email@example.com