Viets sisters were the keepers of history | News, Sports, Jobs


Photo courtesy of the 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. These recordings were then 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 area’s history coordinated by the Trumbull County Historical Society.

The Viets Sisters of Cortland, Vivian “Vera” and Wilhelmein, grew up listening to, and then writing, the first stories about their hometown.

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

Vera, as she was called, and Wilhemein lived when Cortland had a bustling downtown that served as the center for many small surrounding communities. Farmers brought their grain to Richards Mill. There were churches, shops, a bank, and places to eat, dance, and roller skate. The Opera, in addition to being a Grange Hall, screened silent films for which Wilhemien provided the musical accompaniment.

Vera and her younger sister Wilhemien were born around 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 built in 1876. They lived their entire lives in the house first purchased by their grandfather around 1875.

Vera began her teaching career at Cortland School in 1921. She later taught at Warren and became principal of Elm Road School and Lincoln Elementary School. Her teaching career spanned 44 years. Recognized for her sense of organization, she has set up school canteens and numerous programs to help her students.

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

In 1984 the sisters donated land next to their home on North High Street for the construction of the first proper library building in Cortland. The library had been set up in various places in the city for years. A new, larger building has since been constructed on Wakefield Drive.

In the 1950s, Vera and Wilhemien, their father and housekeeper, sat in the living room of their home and recorded Cortland’s story from their notes and family memories. In 1995, a few years after their death, writer Mary Case transcribed this tape into her book “Cortland-Bazetta remembers.” The Viets sisters also left a large collection of historical newspaper clippings and photos about the city to the Cortland-Bazetta Historical Society.

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



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