“I always tell my writing students that when we forget our histories, we forget who we are,” says Jerry Apps ’55, MS’57, PhD’67, a man considered by many to be the preeminent voice of rural Wisconsin.
Apps has devoted his career to recording and telling the stories of rural people and culture in Wisconsin. The word prolific just isn’t big enough to encompass him: driven to preserve and memorialize country life before it’s gone, Apps has written more than 35 books on rural history. His writing has covered some of Wisconsin’s most iconic topics — from breweries, cheese, and the Ringling Brothers to barns and the restoration and conservation of his own farm, Roshara.
He’s also written 12 professional books for educators and more than 800 articles. Additionally, he has completed four hour-long documentaries with Wisconsin Public Television on topics related to rural life during the 1930s, ’40s, and ’50s.
The oldest of three siblings, Apps was born and raised near Wild Rose in Waushara County on a 160-acre farm where his parents, Herman and Eleanor, began farming in 1924. They had no electricity or indoor plumbing. Heat came from the wood stove. As a boy, Apps milked cows by hand, made hay using horses and a pitchfork, and cut grain with a horse-drawn binder.
As a boy, Apps milked cows by hand, made hay using horses and a pitchfork, and cut grain with a horse-drawn binder.
Apps earned three degrees from the University of Wisconsin: a bachelor’s in 1955, a master’s in 1957, and a PhD in 1967. An emeritus professor in UW–Madison’s College of Agricultural and Life Sciences, he’s also taught in the Department of Continuing and Vocational Education and served as its department chair for seven years.
Apps has combined a passion for speaking, writing, and storytelling with his belief in the importance of the past to create a career and a body of work that allows every reader to discover the richness of rural life. He believes that knowledge gained by living close to the earth — how people have survived and thrived with nature — holds valuable insights into ways to care for the environment in the future.
“Rural living teaches important lessons about the value of community and family, doing things for each other, being there to help so everyone succeeds,” Apps says. “It taught me about the relationship between humans and the land, and that’s a connection we have no matter where or when we live.”
Thank you, Waushara County, for Jerry Apps, who has shared the richness of rural life with readers everywhere.