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Viets sisters were keepers of history

Photo courtesy of Trumbull County Historical Society Wilhelmein Viets, left, and her sister, Vivian “Vera” Viets, recorded much of Cortland’s history via audio tape in the 1950s. Those recordings were later transcribed into a book. They donated land next to their home for the city’s first library.

EDITOR’S NOTE: This is part of a weekly series on our region’s history coordinated by the Trumbull County Historical Society.

Cortland’s Viets sisters, Vivian “Vera” and Wilhelmein, grew up listening to, then writing down, the early stories about their hometown.

Their parents and grandparents were part of the earliest generations of people to live in Cortland and Trumbull County in the 1800s so their stories were first- and second-hand accounts of events.

Vera, as she was known, and Wilhemein lived during the time when Cortland had a bustling downtown that served as a center for many surrounding smaller communities. Farmers brought their grain to Richards Mill. There were churches, shops, a bank and places to eat, dance and roller skate. The Opera House, besides being a Grange Hall, showed silent movies for which Wilhemien provided the musical accompaniment.

Both Vera and her younger sister Wilhemien were born about 1900. Their father was Ward Viets, son of Orville Daken Viets. The girls, as they were known, graduated in 1918 and 1920 from the first Cortland High School building that was constructed in 1876. They lived their entire lives in the house that was first purchased by their grandfather around 1875.

Vera began her teaching career at the Cortland school in 1921. She then went on to teach in Warren and became principal of Elm Road School and Lincoln Elementary School. Her teaching career spanned 44 years. Known for her organizational skills, she established school lunches and many programs to assist her students.

Wilhemien began teaching music at the Cortland school a few years after Vera. She also taught music in Warren. Her teaching career in the public schools lasted 37 years, but she continued to teach violin, piano and organ at their home on North High Street.

In 1984, the sisters donated land next to their house on North High Street for the construction of the first actual library building in Cortland. The library had been housed in various places around the town for years. Since then, a new larger building was built on Wakefield Drive.

In the 1950s, Vera and Wilhemien, their father and housekeeper sat down in their home’s parlor and tape recorded the history of Cortland from their notes and family memories. In 1995, a few years after their deaths, writer Mary Case transcribed that tape in her book “Cortland-Bazetta Remembered.” The Viets sisters also left a large collection of historical clippings and photos about the town to the Cortland-Bazetta Historical Society.

The Viets sisters’ love for their family, church, hometown and education gave them a dedication to preserving history that has provided an important legacy.

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