People share extraordinary effects of history on their lives

Published 12:00 am Saturday, September 21, 2002

Everybody must love history. At least that’s the way it seems as I write this column. The past week has been filled with history experiences &045; not only my normal 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. routine (I use that word loosely), but extraordinary experiences.

On Monday, I had the opportunity to speak to the Study Club in Waseca, but prior to their meeting I met with Sheila Morris, the curator of a new exhibit at the Waseca County Historical Society. She was so excited. Recently a donor had given seven photographs to their archives. These pictures were of the interior of a beautiful Victorian home that had been torn down many years ago. Because of the clarity and detail in these photos, Sheila enlarged them to exhibit size, and then advertised to find any artifacts from this home that might be loaned to the museum for display.

She was amazed to hear from a gentleman who, when he was a young man, had stopped at the site during the demolition of the home. He was told to pick up anything that he wanted. He did &045; the beautiful front door with the oval window and its carved framework, a stairway railing, a porch railing, the ornate carpenter’s lace woodwork that had decorated the doorway to the home’s library, a round carved newel post, and several other pieces. These unique items had been stored in a shed for many years, and he is thrilled to see them used in the exhibit and to have them blended with the appropriate photographs. The curator was excited to find these pieces of woodwork in the pictures. It was fun to watch her and to share her enthusiasm.

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On Tuesday, the Albert Lea Study Club toured our museum and spent a considerable amount of time in the library listening to Linda Evenson describe our holdings and how they are used. After their tour, they gave FCHM a donation and thanked us for everything that we do for the people of the county and beyond. Their gift, like the others we receive, is much appreciated.

On Wednesday, museum volunteer Jonathon Green and I put up a display at Albert Lea High School using school year books dating back more than seventy years. We appreciate the opportunity to reach out to young people in this unique way. That afternoon I spoke to the Grace Lutheran Seniors about Egypt and the impact it made on my life as it broadened my perspective of history.

Thursday brought the opportunity to attend a Preservation Conference in Owatonna. Presented by the Minnesota Historical Society, it was held at West Hills, the campus of the orphanage that operated from 1886 to 1945. During those sixty years, 13,000 children were placed there &045; orphaned, dependent, and neglected. Each child came with his or her own story, each became a ward of the state, a very few were adopted, and many others became indentured servants. A museum, dedicated to these children, has been created by Harvey and Maxine Ronglien. Harvey was a resident of the orphanage for eleven years, growing up not knowing anything but institution life, not knowing what it was like to have a home, a family, and someone who loved him.

In 1974, the beautiful buildings on this campus were purchased by the city of Owatonna, and now house the city administration, the art center, the senior citizens center, an indoor tennis court, the orphanage museum, and several other organizations. The people connected with this campus are proud of its preservation and excited to share its story.

The MHS conference was a full day of historic preservation ideas and inspiration. What do you do with a hospital or a school or a sanitarium when it is no longer feasible to continue its original purpose? The various sessions I attended dealt with these issues based on the needs of the government, citizens, and the developers. Everyone had the same goals &045; preservation and profitability. Most amazing to me was the &uot;We can make it work!&uot; attitude &045; knowing that somehow there is a way and being willing to pool talents and energy to find that success.

On Friday, ALHS Humanities students toured the museum and village in preparation for Discover History, and I enjoyed telling them I used to think history was boring.

On Saturday, I spoke to the members of the Clarks Grove Heritage Society and watched their faces as they spoke of their community and their desire for a museum to tell its story. Their history is unique, and they are determined to preserve it.

Then on Sunday, hundreds of people turned out for Autumn in the Village. The sun was shining, the demonstrators were smiling, Col. Albert Miller Lea wowed his audience, people enjoyed having their antiques appraised, and our visitors were all so complimentary about the museum. It was a perfect fall day.

I know that, in all reality, everybody does not love history. But this week has been inspiring, and in the last few days, I’ve met and shared with some terrific people who understand its extraordinary effect on our lives.

Bev Jackson is executive director of the Freeborn County Historical Museum.