Larrabee Descendants Surprise West with Honor

By Jessica Duren, News writer

Wednesday, September 29, 2010 12:19 AM CDT

(From the web site of "Newspapers of Fayette County")

CLERMONT – A special surprise dinner was recently held at Brick City Bar and Grill in Clermont, in honor of Nadine West, former Montauk site manager. Descendants of Iowa Governor William Larrabee were in attendance to honor West for her years of service to their ancestors’ historic home.

Several Larrabee descendants recently made the trip to Clermont to honor former Montauk site manager Nadine West with a plaque and dinner. Pictured are descendants, from left- Charlotte Mitchell, Olympia, Wash., Jeff Mitchell, Olympia, Wash., Nadine West, Chuck Larrabee, Boston, Mass., Randall Mitchell, Palatine, Ill, Susan Larrabee, Albuquerque, N.M., and Anne Clubine, Ames.

Chuck Larrabee, of Boston, Mass., told West of his time as a child visiting Aunt Anna’s home. Chuck is the great-grandson of the former governor.

“I wondered what would happen to it, who would take care of it,” Charles said. “You did that; you took care of it.”

Randall Mitchell, another great-grandson of William Larrabee, helped present a crystal award to West for all her devotion and dedication to preserving the historic former home of Iowa’s 12th governor.

The keepsake features an image of Montauk, along with 21 names of Larrabee descendants who contributed to the thank-you.

Expecting to have dinner with just Randall and his brother, Jeff, the descendants presented the award to a teary-eyed West who was overcome with emotion. She said later she had been completely surprised by the whole thing.

“I was totally blown away. It was neat because they came from all over, some from the East Coast and some from the West Coast,” West said.

Other descendants present included Jeff Mitchell and Charlotte Mitchell of Olympia, Wash., Randy and Lauri Mitchell, Palatine, Ill., Ann Clubine, Ames, and Susan Larrabee, Albuquerque, N.M.

Starting out as a cleaning person and a tour guide, West worked her way up to site manager in 2002. She retired last June after 25 years at Montauk. West said one of her favorite things as site manager was becoming friends with the Larrabee descendants.

“They are a wonderful family,” she said.

Among her duties as site manager were planning new events and activities, and preserving the heritage of the Larrabee family.

“A lot of things were started when I worked there, but I couldn’t have done it without a great staff.”

West challenged herself to hold at least one event each month, and to introduce a new event each year.

“That was challenging sometimes,” West said.

One of the events she is most proud of is the Christmas open house. Started just a few short years after she became employed with the site, the event was started, allowing visitors to enter the normally roped off rooms of the home. Local musicians, including school age kids were and still are able to perform in the formal music room and play the historic grand piano.

“I’ve had parents say they will have to remember that moment, when their kid played on the former governor’s piano.”

Also initiated for the Christmas open house were horse and wagon rides around the Montauk property.

“People like the wagon rides, it gives the old festive feeling.”

West encouraged education during her time at Montauk, inviting kids to be the guides. Groups of fifth graders each studied a room and took their turn instructing visitors on the history.

Four style shows held each year a few years back gave women the opportunity to see what was popular during the governor’s prime time. With 90-100 outfits within the house, West said her group showed around 20 outfits each year.

“Women would walk through the house as we told them about who wore the dresses, the style and what events they were worn to. We have one we know Augusta wore for her dad’s second inauguration ball.”

Although West has retired from the site, she is looking forward to volunteering in the coming months. “I really miss it. It was much easier leaving knowing there is someone there who cares about the place and will do a fantastic job.”

West refers to the new site manager, former grounds keeper Wade Schott. Schott has kept up with the events, holding the historic picnic earlier in the fall. The next event on the calendar is the annual Halloween party. Another event made popular during West’s time at the site.

Montauk is open for the fall season Friday-Saturday from noon to four.