Society

A lifetime labor of patient love

For 52 years he’s lived with history
By MIKE BROWN
Reporter Editor


Frank Wenger is the longest residing occupant of the historic 111-year-old Dr. William R. Kennard house at 536 West Bell. 
Reporter/Mike Brown Frank Wenger is the longest residing occupant of the historic 111-year-old Dr. William R. Kennard house at 536 West Bell. Reporter/Mike Brown For a house that’s 111 years old, and seen a ton of Rockdale history, you don’t expect its current resident to be the person who has lived there the longest.

Meet Frank Wenger.

Wenger has lived in the Dr. William Kennard house for 52 years, since 1959.

Wenger and his late wife, Maxine, raised three children there and he talks about 536 West Bell just like it’s one of the family.

And it is. Wenger took on a lifelong project when the family moved in. It’s been a half- century-plus of adding, subtracting, re-working, restoring and, above all, caring for every square inch of one of Rockdale’s most historic structures.

“When we moved in it had been conver ted into about seven apartments,” Wenger said. “It was always my dream to restore this place to like it was in 1900, the year it was built.”


The ‘grand staircase’ was prominent in family Christmases for (L-R) Rick Wenger, Patricia Wenger Doss and their father, Frank Wenger. Not pictured is another sibling, Diana Wenger Reese. The ‘grand staircase’ was prominent in family Christmases for (L-R) Rick Wenger, Patricia Wenger Doss and their father, Frank Wenger. Not pictured is another sibling, Diana Wenger Reese. FRONTIER DOCTOR— The house became known to later generations as the “Meyer House,” after it was the home of legendary Mayor H. C. Meyer.

But it was constructed by another Rockdale legend.

Dr. William R. Kennard was an Alabama native, and Civil War veteran, who came to Cameron in 1871, then moved on to Rockdale, where he also became mayor.

“You could still tell where he saw patients, on the first floor, the rooms in the southwest corner,” Wenger said.

CHANGES—The home has undergone a number of changes.


Here’s the way the Kennard House looked in 1911, when it was featured in a Reporter photo series on Rockdale’s stately homes. Here’s the way the Kennard House looked in 1911, when it was featured in a Reporter photo series on Rockdale’s stately homes. “It used to have a conservatory, added onto the northeast side,” he said. “It was all glass, the roof and the sides. It’s all gone now except for the foundation.”

But the home’s most famous room—in disrepair for decades—and one that residents of the 1920s and 1930s would have remembered, was its third floor ballroom.

“ Back years ago people would tell me they remembered going to balls and big events up there,” Wenger said.

The Wenger/Meyer/Kennard house has gone down in local history for another reason. Its third floor and roof was where residents of the Central Rockdale bottomland fled for refuge during devastating floods in 1921 and 1936.

The 500 block of West Bell is between the two forks of Ham Branch.


Above, one of the cornice pieces still tops a 20-foot column at the home’s stunning front entrance. Above, one of the cornice pieces still tops a 20-foot column at the home’s stunning front entrance. DREAMS—“It was a wonderful place to grow up,” Patricia Wenger Doss recalled. “I know by sister, brother and I played in every single room.”

Christmases were especially memorable.

“We’d wake my parents up probably about 3 a.m. each Christmas and then we’d all come down that big staircase together as a family, to have our Christmas,” Doss said.

She remembers something else, too. “Daddy working on something in the house, just about all the time,” she said. “It’s always been his dream.”

Not many people get to live in their dreams. But Frank Wenger has been doing exactly that for the past 52 years.


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2011-08-11 digital edition



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