Jim Leary is a native of Rice Lake who has been nominated for a Grammy for his exploration of the music and cultures of the state. Jim says, “These days my heart is in writing and ethnography, but I will always be a laborer.” As part of our ShopTalk, Jim brings some of his stories and music to audiences all over the state in a presentation called “What Folksongs Tell Us About Work in Wisconsin.”
We are proud to have partnered with Love Wisconsin to bring you a story told by Jim. Love Wisconsin shares positive, inspiring stories of everyday Wisconsinites on Facebook. Together we use online tools to get to know the many faces and voices and perspectives that make up our state.
Here’s an excerpt from Jim’s story!
I was born in 1950 in Rice Lake, Wisconsin. I lived literally between two lakes, a woods, and a swamp. We were on the edge of the city limits, and quite a few of our near neighbors were on small farms.
In my family, we have some Welsh and some Scottish ancestry, but we’re mostly Irish. I grew up with a strong sense of heritage, and all of my immigrant ancestors were famine refugees. They were illiterate laborers. From that I got a lifelong sympathy for immigrant and refugee people and for working people, and for anybody who’s being oppressed.
Everything turned around in my family – in terms of access to education – when my great-great-aunt, Katie Leary, got a job as a maid for Mark Twain. The Mark Twain. When Twain died, he left some money to Aunt Katie, and then, because of Katie’s generosity and the fact that she had no children, my grandfather was able to use some of this money to get an education. I see this money as what kind of got us out of the ditch. It opened the door to higher education for my family.
What happens next? Read the story here…