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Encyclopedia Dubuque


"Encyclopedia Dubuque is the online authority for all things Dubuque, written by the people who know the city best.”
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Affiliated with the Local History Network of the State Historical Society of Iowa, and the Iowa Museum Association.


From Encyclopedia Dubuque
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Photo courtesy: Telegraph Herald

ENZLER, Jerry. (Washington, D.C., Aug. 12, 1951- ). Raised in Bethesda, Maryland, Enzler's family could trace its roots to Dubuque in the 1850s. His father, Clarence J. ENZLER, left the city during the GREAT DEPRESSION and worked in the District of Columbia area as an author and speech writer for the Department of Agriculture. (1)

Enzler graduated from LORAS COLLEGE in 1973 with a degree in accounting. He married Katherine FISCHER and worked two years for Arthur Andersen, an accounting firm. In 1975 the two spent a year as volunteer teachers at the Sisters of Charity of the Blessed Virgin Mary-affiliated Immaculate Conception School in Clarksdale, Mississippi.

The experience led to the couple returning to Dubuque. Fischer taught at STEPHEN HEMPSTEAD HIGH SCHOOL and then WAHLERT CATHOLIC HIGH SCHOOL beginning in 1989. Enzler applied for a position at the HAM HOUSE and was interviewed by Helen MERCER. Through a federal program, the Comprehensive Employment and Training Act, he became in 1977 the first full-time employee of the DUBUQUE COUNTY HISTORICAL SOCIETY, as the museum's curator. (2)

His first project increased revenue at the Ham House by quadrupling the hours of operation which increased admission revenue and sales at the gift shop. He reduced expenses by increasing the use of work-study students rather than part-time seasonal workers. Enzler then took a leave-of-absence for a year and was accepted into a one-year graduate program in museum studies at the Cooperstown Graduate Program, State University of New York and received a Master's degree in Museum Studies. (3)

With his guidance, the Historical Society saw its budget grow from $13,000 in 1979 to $730,000 in 1989 with a staff of twelve full-time and thirty part-time employees. Museum attendance increased from three thousand visitors annually to 73,000. Dubuque museums annually accounted for an estimated $6,000,000 in revenue to the city.

In 1979 Enzler initiated the opening of the FRED W. WOODWARD RIVERBOAT MUSEUM by receiving a $200,000 grant from the Woodward Foundation and over one million dollars raised locally. He directed the successful grant application in 1979 to the National Trust for Historic Preservation that resulted in $135,000 being awarded to Dubuque. This was the seventh largest grant issued in the United States and the largest for any project on inland waters.

In 1983 $200,000 was received by grant acceptance from the National Endowment for the Humanities with an additional $900,000 being donated locally. Under Enzler's direction, this money was placed in an endowment for the complete restoration of Ham House, the start of the NATIONAL RIVERS HALL OF FAME, and completion of the Riverboat Museum. With his colleagues, he worked with leaders from the Dubuque Area Chamber of Commerce, Dubuque Convention and Visitors Bureau, the City of Dubuque, and several other partners to implement the $188 million riverfront development project. (4)

Enzler's energetic grant writing activities led of over six hundred successful applications including the $40 million Vision Iowa grant which began the transformation of the ICE HARBOR. He will be remembered for making possible the establishment of the Fred W. Woodward Riverboat Museum; acquisition and restoration of the steamboat William M Black from 1979 to 1982; completion of the Woodward Riverboat Museum; establishment of the National Rivers Hall of Fame; restoration of the Mathias Ham House from 1984 to 1987; development of the Iowa Welcome Center building and continued growth of programs and endowment from 1988 to 1992; the America's River project which established the William Woodward Mississippi River Discovery Center, Wetland, Boatyard, and restoration of the Depot from 1997 to 2003; the America's River II project which doubled the Woodward Campus of the Museum & Aquarium with the Diamond Jo National River Center; Rivers to the Sea, RiverWorks Splash Zone, 3D/4D theater, and Mississippi Plaza; and increased endowment from 2006 to 2012. The National Mississippi River Museum and Aquarium, a Smithsonian-affiliated organization, has been the catalyst for hundreds of millions of dollars in riverfront development for Dubuque and served 2.3 million visitors in its first 12 years. (5)

Enzler received the FIRST CITIZEN AWARD in 1991, an Honorary Doctor of Humanities from CLARKE COLLEGE, Honorary Doctor of Law from LORAS COLLEGE, Coastal American Leadership Award from the Office of the White House, and the Humanities Iowa Lifetime Service Award. He was the first president of the America's River Corporation. In 2006 he was a member of the Iowa Mississippi River Parkway Commission which authored the Iowa Great River Road Corridor Management Plan. (6) In addition to grant applications, his writing included creating and scripting more than fifty museum exhibits including “Lewis and Clark’s Excellent Adventure” and “The Rivers of America.” He focused particular research on famed mountain man James Felix "Jim Bridger" and in 2011 wrote an article entitled Tracking Jim Bridger: Finding the Trail of Old Gabe for the fifth issue of The Rocky Mountain Fur Trade Journal. (7) See: Jerry Enzler discusses Jim Bridger: [[1]] part of Three Worlds Meet

Photo courtesy: Three Worlds Meet, The Everett D. Graff Collection and The Mae Reed & Clyde H. Porter Collection, American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming.

In 2014 Enzler was listed among the project principals of Three Worlds Meet (http://threeworldsmeet.org/home.php) funded, in part by grants from the Fur Trade Research Center, Wyoming Cultural Trust Fund and Wyoming Humanities Council. (8) As described on its website:

        One of the most fascinating periods in 19th century 
        America was the fur trade in the far West. At the 
        heart of this era of exploration and contact was the 
        exchange of goods between the Indians and the fur 
        trappers and traders at the summer rendezvous when 
        they came together to trade, to celebrate their 
        survival and to plan the next year's hunt. Here the 
        traders exchanged manufactured goods with the trappers 
        and Indians for furs and provisions. The most popular 
        location for these gatherings was along the Green 
        River at the foot of the Wind River mountain range 
        near present-day Pinedale, Wyoming. 
        During this period, extraordinary encounters brought 
        together not only the world of indigenous peoples and 
        the world the nomadic trappers, but a third world: one 
        of Eastern American and European culture and perspective. 
        The Green River Rendezvous of 1837 was attended by Scottish 
        patron and adventurer, William Drummond Stewart, and the 
        artist he hired, Alfred Jacob Miller, who would record this 
        gathering with evocative sketches, paintings, and narrative. 
        At this singularly historic place and time, THREE WORLDS 
        MEET. (9)
                   The Three Worlds Meet project, co-sponsored by the Museum of the 
                   Mountain Man, offers a public presentation and interpretation of 
                   selected "living pictures" from the portfolio of celebrated artist 
                   Alfred Jacob Miller who in 1837 was the first to depict the annual 
                   Green River Fur Trade Rendezvous held near present-day Pinedale, 
                   Wyoming. The theatrical production and related series of authoritative 
                   presentations, scheduled for July 12-13, 2013, will utilize 
                   historical interpreters, local actors and nationally renowned 
                   scholars. (10)

Three Worlds Meet brought selected sketches and paintings of Miller "to life" through tableaux vivants using costumed actors in sustained poses to imitate specific pieces of art. The program was staged in July, 2013 as an activity of the Museum of the Mountain Man in Pinedale, Wyoming. Production credits listed Enzler as a writer. The production was repeated in 2014 in Scotland and Ireland.

On April 17, 2017 Governor Terry Branstad presented Enzler with the William J. Petersen/Edgar R. Harlan Lifetime Achievement Award for significant contributions to Iowa history. The award recognizes an individual, group or organization that has made significant long-term or continuing contributions to Iowa history. Enzler was the second Dubuque resident to receive the award with the first being William J. PETERSEN. (11)

Enzler retired in 2016 and was succeeded by Dr. Robert DAVIS. Following retirement, Enzler was involved in consulting work and hosting "National Rivers Hall of Fame Podcasts. (12)

In 2021 Enzler announced the publication of Jim Bridger: Trailblazer of the American West. The result of many years of research and writing, the book was the result of Enzler visiting more than twenty-five repositories of documents dealing with one of the greatest "mountain men" in American history. Utilizing his knowledge of the West, Bridger gained a reputation as an expert guide and scout who offered advice to or led wagon trains. He established Fort Bridger, an important resupply point and fur trading outpost. (13)

In 2022 the Bridger biography had sold more than 5,000 copies and was entering its third printing. It received the Reader's Choice Audience Award in the non-fiction category in True West Magazine's annual Best of the West competition. Founded in 1953, True West was a magazine for those interested in the history of America's western frontier. To publicize the book and spread the story of Bridger, Enzler estimated that he completed seventeen visits with groups around the country and conducted Zoom teleconferences. (14)

It was announced on June 24, 2022 that Enzler's book was ranked by Western Writers of America as one of the top three Western biographies nationality and therefore qualifying for a Spur Finalist Award. (15)



1. Hogstrom, Erik. "Enthusiasm, Vision," River of Dreams, November, 2016, p. 12

2. Ibid., p. 13

3. Ibid., p. 14

4. "President & CEO Jerry Enzler to Retire at the end of 2016," National Mississippi River Museum & Aquarium news release, October 15, 2015

5. Ibid.

6. Iowa Great River Road Corridor Management Plan. Iowa Mississippi River Parkway Commission, 2006. Online: http://www.iowadot.gov/iowasbyways/Final_GRR_CMP_Update_June_2006.pdf

7. The Rocky Mountain Fur Trade Journal Online: http://museumofthemountainman.com/museum-publications/the-rocky-mountain-fur-trade-journal/volume-5-2011/

8. Three Worlds Meet, "Project Principals," Online: http://threeworldsmeet.org/about.php

9. Ibid. "Historical Background," ...

10. Ibid., "Recreating History Where History Was Created,".....

11. "Dubuquer Earns Recognition from Governor for Historical Contributions," Telegraph Herald, April 18, 2017, p. 7B

12. "National Rivers Hall of Fame," Online: https://www.rivermuseum.com/national-rivers-hall-of-fame-podcast

13. London, Michelle, "Jim Bridger, Biography Uncovers New Details of Mountain Man's Life," Telegraph Herald, April 22, 2021, p. 7A

14. London, Michelle, "Enzler's Jim Bridger Bio Garners Award," Telegraph Herald, February 13, 2022, p. 3C

15. "Enzler Receives National Writing Award," Julien's Journal, August, 2022, p. 42