On college campus, donors preserve history, faith

A few steps off a lightly traveled arboretum path, a handsome stone building blends nicely into a backdrop of woods and rocky ridge.

The hiker focusing on his or her stride will glide past without noticing, and miss a scenic stop at historic LeMieux Chapel.

The tidy 1920s-era chapel owes its survival and recent revival to a partnership that allows community supporters to maintain it as a living relic, a reminder of a Northeastern Wisconsin where devout Belgian settlers built roadside chapels and backyard shrines.

UW-Green Bay acquired the site 25 years ago. Part of an old homestead along Bay Settlement Road, the acreage was a high-value addition to Cofrin Arboretum holdings along the ecologically sensitive Niagara Escarpment.

Under terms of the LeMieux sale, the University agreed to routine chapel upkeep. It could not, however, pledge scarce resources to structural work in keeping with the Arboretum’s nature-first mission.

Enter Joan and Norbert Jadin of Green Bay (pictured, above, in front of chapel). It was Joan’s grandmother, Odile (picture below), for whom the chapel had been built.

chapel-01Odile LeMieux (1867-1942) requested its construction because in the early 1920s, with a son studying for the priesthood and her health making trips to Holy Cross Church more difficult, she wanted a place for prayer behind her family’s home on Bay Settlement Road. At the time, small wayside chapels dotted the region, a convenience for daily devotion by travelers and rural families.

The LeMieux Chapel would be different, though. Odile’s husband, Joseph, was a retired stonemason who had helped build grand Great Lakes lighthouses, and her brother Fabian LaPlant was a skilled carpenter. The two men took limestone from the ridge to construct a building approximately 12 by 18 feet in size, with eight exterior windows, a vaulted ceiling with exposed wooden beams, and room inside for a simple altar, the stations of the cross and seating for about ten. Completed in 1925, the chapel was said to be Odile’s “pride and joy.”

Fast forward 80 years. The Jadins enlisted family and neighbors who remembered when road maps gave the area identity as “Chapel Ridge Heights.” They watched over the little building and pitched in on cleaning, painting and refurbishing with a new floor and tuck pointing. In 2005 their work won a preservation award from the Brown County Historical Society.

Today, the door to the oldest building on campus remains unlocked. A grotto and statue are nearby. Rough benches made from fallen trees frame the scene. Mostly, the people who find the hidden site — it’s a few hundred yards north of the Bay Settlement Road overlook tower, about midway down the ridge — respect the property, and guest book entries confirm that visitors still find quiet there.

Joan and Norbert Jadin have set up a rainy-day fund to cover maintenance expenses. The Jadins, joined by friends and family including the Van Lanens, LeMieuxes, Baumgarts, Eckbergs, Nolans, Charliers and others, have contributed labor and dollars to preserving the chapel. Anyone interested in contributing to the LeMieux Chapel Fund may call Lisa DeLeeuw in the University Advancement Office at (920) 465-2074.

(Editor’s note: A version of this story appeared in the February 2008 edition of the Inside UW-Green Bay alumni magazine.)