A new exhibit beginning Monday at the Rock County Historical Society (RCHS) features national and local election buttons, posters, matchbooks, political handouts, letters and more ranging from 1897 through 2012, thanks to a collaborative effort between RCHS and the family members of George and Virginia Kowal (Kealey).

RCHS’ campaign collectibles date as far back as President William McKinley’s election in 1896. The Kowal collection includes a framed poster from John F. Kennedy’s 1960 campaign – featuring a smiling, black-and-white photograph of the soon-to-be president with the headline: Kennedy for President, Leadership for the 60’s. Posters from Lyndon B. Johnson’s presidential campaign, a life-sized cutout of Ronald Reagan, and dozens of memorabilia featuring aspiring presidents through the Obama campaign round out the national collection.

Local campaign keepsakes range from an array of candidates and offices, including races for governor, congressional seats, sheriff, judgeships, and state treasurer.

“The Historical Society is grateful to the Kowal family for lending us their fascinating collection of campaign memorabilia,” said RCHS’ Executive Director Tim Maahs. “It adds another level of richness to the RCHS exhibit, and is especially timely during this election cycle.”

Maahs added that he would encourage anyone who would like to lend their historical collections temporarily to the Historical Society to contact him.

George and Virginia Kowal were lifelong Janesville residents and active in local and state politics their entire lives. Their daughter, Diane Kowal, recalls her parents as “always up for good political banter while maintaining friendships with supporters of both parties.” She said that together, her parents were instrumental in changing the political landscape of Rock County with the common goal of creating a diverse community.

George Kowal, who served at the Rock County Sheriff’s office, passed away in 2008. Virginia continues to be engaged in the political process, and served as a poll worker for more than 30 years.

The campaign display, which runs through Jan. 31, is part of a larger exhibit in the RCHS Museum & Visitor Center at 426 N. Jackson St., Janesville. The exhibits span two levels of the building and include a Parker Pen collection, a General Motors section, a variety of military collectibles, an art exhibit and much more. Guests are invited to visit the Museum Center from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily, by appointment only. Masks and social distancing are required. Tickets are $10. For more information or to make an appointment, call RCHS at 608-756-4509 or email Maahs at tmaahs@rchs.us. For more information about RCHS, visit their website at www.rchs.us.

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