Surprise! My own family member shows up in our campus history

Except for those of my students whose parents or grandparents attended the place where I teach which ended in 1966, few know about the early background of this institution which started in 1906 as an agricultural high school.  I would venture to add that most of these same students and many faculty know very little if anything about the Old Treaty Crossing, only 13 miles away just across the border of our county.

This was not always so.  In his autobiography, Conrad Selvig includes a photo and describes the Huot Park monument that commemorates the treaty signed by the Chippewa Indians in 1855.   And, Old Treaty Crossing is featured most prominently in the top right side of the historical 16 x 22 foot mural located at the front of the campus’ auditorium.

The murals in our auditorium are artwork.  Art is exactly what they were meant to be. History shows that all of us, regardless of our origins, have many things in our past of which we are not proud.   Most people claim that the study of history is to teach us not to repeat our mistakes. However, the murals are not meant to be a lesson in history, but rather they are an irreplaceable artistic expression of the Red River Valley’s agricultural heritage.

Because of the passage of time (and as an introduction about farming!), I believe it is worth giving some background to these murals. The murals do not represent a precise work of history – they do not depict the Indian wars for instance – but they are art, or if you like, poetry emphasizing, in part, new beginnings. The left mural represents Scandinavian arrival in North America, fur trapping, and cooperation with the Native Americans.  The right hand panel depicts the events at Old Treaty Crossing, and then subsequent development of agriculture, last of these, a (perhaps little noticed) farmer on a tractor with a few other farmers.

Little did I know that my very diminutive aunt Eleanor who died just a few years ago, would have some notoriety in the historic presentation of these murals. A November 11, 1942 article of our local paper on the completion of the murals stated they “have been formally presented to the Northwest School by the graduating class of 1932. Eleanor made the presentation at the Parent’s day program Saturday. She read a congratulatory letter from a former superintendent of the Northwest School, who acted as a counselor for the 1932 class.”

The article went on to credit the murals with the efforts of the State Art Director, Clement Haupers, of the Works Projects Administration (WPA). Haupers found unemployed skilled artists and matched them with a place for their work.   In a Fall 1979 Minnesota History article, Haupers was interviewed and said, “The program was predicated on community service. The government paid the artist’s salary, but the recipient of his work was the sponsor who paid all other than labor costs.”

WPA’s artist, John Martin Socha from St. Paul, did the actual large scale painting that was honored on Nov. 11th, 1942.  Socha’s other WPA paintings adorned the walls of the Federal Reserve Bank in Minneapolis, the auditorium of the Winona State Teachers college, the New Ulm high school, other St. Paul high schools and St. Luke’s Catholic church of St. Paul.

That presentation happened a decade after this gift had been donated by the class of 1932. The granddaughter of Chief Little Boy, a signer of the treaty, had a granddaughter named Myrtle who was present and attending the farm school. They were present at this ceremony honoring the John Martin Socha’s artistic rendition of a time in history.  Native Americans were involved in the NWSA’s early history.  Selvig’s book published in 1951 shows a picture of an Indian chief from the Red Lake Chippewa Reservation who spoke at a commemoration in 1920.

Someone working away daily in an office cubicle may not see Socha’s kind of art on the horizon’s landscapes. They also do not know about the heavy manual labor that was required of those early settlers.  As a farmer’s daughter, I grew up working on the tractor and driving truck, helping with harvest before school started in the fall. It was hard work.  My dad, and uncle and three aunts were all graduates of this farm school.  Both grandfathers were farmers and my Norwegian maternal great grandfather, as well as a female relative, Margit Olsnes, homesteaded.  Homesteading was not for the fainthearted.

However, what we had to do was NOTHING compared to what my uncle, three aunts and dad had to go through during the 1930s.  Here in the Red River Valley the threat of losing the farm and ending up on the poor farm was ever present in my family. Some families DID lose their farms when they couldn’t pay their bills.  I’ve heard of instances where a farmer might sell out his cattle because he couldn’t afford the feed but when shipped down to St. Paul, they were not worth anything and he still had to pay for the freight shipping charges. The 1930s was a very tough time for many people in the Crookston area, businessmen and farmers alike.

All of my aunts and uncles attended this school but they could not board at the school like all the other farm kids. Instead, they had to go back home five miles away to do the chores so that they could pay for tuition for their classes.  At one point, money was so tight that my one aunt who just had her senior year to graduate in 1934 was told by her parents that she would have to stay home and work on the farm instead. The money was not available for my grandparents to pay for her tuition to continue in school, there were two others after her that needed to continue their schooling.

As it turns out, Superintendent McCall got wind of this and telephoned my grandma and told her, “Ethel just HAS to graduate with her class….I’ll find her a job on campus.”  So that is what happened because of the kindness of McCall, Ethel DID graduate with her class in 1934. In fact, she went on to work at a university in the Liberal Arts department in Northridge, California for many decades.  Think if this one man had not stepped in to find Ethel a job in the school’s kitchen to help cover for her tuition?

I think of the many, many hours my Aunt Eleanor spent with the rudimentary equipment that they used in the 1930s. Such as swathing the grain, putting them in bundles, then they were put into rows and then picked up by the latest in machinery. The hours that my uncle and three aunts spent laboring to save the family farm. But it is Aunt Eleanor whom I respect the most because she reminded me most closely of my dear grandpa.

Long may the murals in the auditorium live to be the artwork it was meant to be. History shows us that we, as fallen creatures, have many things that we are not proud of. But the murals in the old campus auditorium are not meant to be a lesson in the history of this area but rather an artistic expression.

Some people may want to have a more inclusive rendering of other nationalities and of women in the auditorium. Indeed, they should raise funds to have a new mural painted in the Wellness Center that is presently being built that would show inclusivity and diversity of nations represented now on this campus.  I believe the “Invisible Farmer” needs to be given his or her due. That is why I will be writing a series on the farmers from the past who started with a small and humble farmstead that has evolved into a 3rd or 4th generation farm or a Century Farm. I hope some of the farmers from the outlying area will come forward with whatever photos of old farmsteads or stories that accurately depict what these early settlers went through.

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Researching has its perks

I feel privileged to teach composition to college freshmen. This semester my students are working hard to learn how to research the academic databases to find scholarly sources to back up what they write. Unfortunately, except for those students whose parents or grandparents attended the former agricultural high school, few know about the early background of this institution which started in 1906.  I would venture to add that most of these same students know very little about an important, historic place that is only 13 miles away from a university that is heralded for its education.

The place where a treaty was signed (and later broken) is just across the border from our county. A monument commemorates the treaty signed by the Chippewa Indians in 1855. Many students have never been to this historic place while a bigger city 23 miles away holds a far greater attraction. Most know nothing about the Chautauqua event that is held annually every September at this park to celebrate the Native American and Métis traditions. I daresay, most faculty and staff have not adventured across the county lines to witness this yearly event either.

As I was doing keywords searches to help look at the microfilm in the library, I looked at headlines having to do with WPA (Works Progress Agency), NWSA and other words. Fortunately, I stumbled upon articles that related to the two 16 x 22 foot murals in our campus auditorium.  I discovered an Aug. 11, 1942 article in the local paper that reported the painter John Martin Socha was from St. Paul, Minnesota. He had accomplished other large scale paintings on the walls of the Federal Reserve Bank in Minneapolis, the auditorium of the Winona State Teachers college, the New Ulm high school, other St. Paul high schools and St. Luke’s Catholic church of St. Paul.

As I read the next article from Nov. 11, 1942, I understood that the murals in our auditorium were meant to artistically depict “Landing of the Norsemen in North America” and “The Signing of the Old Crossing Treaty.” I’ve learned that when researching with one goal in mind, inevitably it may lead you into surprise discoveries.  Before this discovery, I had just asked the downtown librarian who was helping me with the microfilm reader’s paper jam what he thought of the murals on our campus. He was noncommittal but said the artist should have done better on the costumes of the Vikings and the Native American Indians.  Since I grew up in the country of this same town and had attended many events such as lectures, plays and concerts at this auditorium, I told him that this artwork were in my blood.

Little did I know that after saying my strong connection with the art, I would be reading on the microfilm that my very diminutive aunt with her soft voice and gentle chuckle would have some notoriety in a November 1942 newspaper written about these very murals. Apparently blood does run thicker than the water of our town’s river. I read, 15 minutes after telling the librarian that the murals were in my blood, the newspaper account that reported the murals “have been formally presented to the Northwest School by the graduating class of 1932. Miss Eleanor made the presentation at the Parent’s day program Saturday. She read a congratulatory letter from Dr. A.A. Dowell of St. Paul, former superintendent of the Northwest School, who with Mrs. Dowell acted as counsellor for the 1932 class.” My own “Invisible Farmer” Aunt Eleanor who died several years ago in Arizona, was a part of this mural that started with the NWSA class of 1932. Wow, I teared up and wished at that moment that I had known about this when she was still alive. I would have asked her more questions about the murals.

The article went on to credit the two murals as a result of the efforts of the State Art Director, Clement Haupers, of the WPA (Works Progress Agency). Haupers had read Federal Art Project’s manual of procedure. It plainly stated that he was “to maintain and increase [art] skills.” Haupers, who for six decades had been an artist, teacher, and pioneering arts administrator also knew many artists during the Great Depression were out of work. According to another article I read, “finding these skilled artists was one problem. Finding homes for their work was another. The Federal Art Project intended that the artists’ work would somehow serve the public welfare.”

Haupers described much of his work as State Art Director as “public relations.” He had to develop receptive audiences for the arts in communities where many believed that art had to be Art — imported or certified by the ages. He not only had to find audiences, but he had to find sponsors -local institutions or community leaders who would bear the costs of a project. Clements continued, “The program was predicated on community service. The government paid the artist’s salary, but the recipient of his work was the sponsor who paid all other than labor costs. And that’s rather important to remember.”

Of course, Haupers may have been the Paris trained artist and art savvy person who did the background work for the WPA project that graces our auditorium but it was John Martin Socha who did the actual large scale painting that was honored on Nov. 11th, 1942. That presentation happened a decade after this had been started with the class of 1932. It was also noted in the article that the granddaughter of Chief Little Boy, a signer of the treaty, Mrs. C.A. Smith of Grygla had a daughter named Myrtle who was attending the agricultural high school. They were present at this ceremony honoring the John Martin Socha’s artistic rendition of a time in history.

So, you just never know where your researching on one subject may lead you down a different path.  I better get back to grading my 35 students’ papers.

Kiehle murals

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Acronym “TWWHADI” with board meetings

I heard this acronym of “TWWHADI” when we left for Almaty, Kazakhstan in 2008 to teach at a western university.  It meant that the person who shared it with us felt hand-tied in trying to get anything done because of the objection of: “The Way We Have Always Done It.”  There are people who do NOT like change and believe that they have a defense in saying that this is the way it is, DON’T change it!  This has recently come to my attention by talking with two board members who think I am going too fast with getting things done around the museum and the Carnegie building.   The one thing I heard several times as a kind of excuse was that with boards, things go slower.  I said that things were NOT changing fast enough because everyone was used to sitting on their hands and not getting anything accomplished. Perhaps it was the person’s way of getting off the hook or feeling less guilt about NOT doing anything more constructive.

I was also reminded of a Kazakh proverb that relates to this kind of inactivity. As a result, we are hurting financially at the museum. We do not have BIG donors because people don’t think we have a problem. We do!   Some may not be interested in history, rather some are all about sports or music. They find history boring. Anyway, the proverb goes something like this: “A place with noise, laughter and chaos is a home but a quiet, inactive place is a cemetery.”  To that effect we have people who are happy with leaving things just the way they found it.  There had been VERY active people who set up the museum about 30 years ago but it has stayed the same since then. Sadly, they have died and taken their good stories of our illustrious past with them to the grave. Also, these contrary people don’t want to hurt the feelings of those who have donated things to the museum.  As a result, we have 20 irons, 6 treadle sewing machines, about 5-6 pump organs and the list goes on and on.

Unfortunately, our museum is NOT kid-friendly…or adult friendly for that matter. We have a plethora of material objects that has been given to the museum from grandma’s attic, simultaneously we are living in an area that has depopulated.  These days we don’t have as many children in our town.  Sadly, there is more activity in the cemeteries for the older generation than at the playgrounds for the very young people. This fits with the Kazakh proverb. Noisy Activity =  Life while Indecisive Inactivity = Death. We need to have a paradigm shift in the minds of those who are older and think that things should remain the same as they were 25-30 years ago.  They are NOT!    We live in the 21st century with new technology that helps with preserving the old, tried and true ways from yesteryear.

I liken this fosslized thinking with the bonanza farms that were in this area in the 1870s. There were many big investors from the East Coast and the bigger cities in those days grinding out a profit with the grain fields up and down our farming valley.  These bonanza farmers soon found out that you could not hold on to qualified workers for such tough seasonal work. People from my state acknowledged you were better off with the shift to diversified, family farms in order to make the soil remain tilled and cultivated.  The shift happened and now from smaller, diversified farms we have another shift to huge, family farms that are getting crops out of their 10,000-15,000 acres instead of a half a section or under 300 acres.

Some people on our board are admitting finally that we have a financial problem where our County Commissioners are only giving us $10,000 a year whereas they gave us twice that amount many years ago.  What has changed? Why do we not have the backing of the commissioners?  We are a big county and there are separate heritage centers in other smaller towns.  We do not actually represent ALL of our county even though that is our name of our historical society. Yet that should be our bottom-line when accepting items from donors.  Does this article of clothing, toy, household good, farm machinery tell the County story?  Otherwise, we are going to look like a hardware store full of the same items or appear like a antique dealership showing off how many of the same things available for sell. Although, in our case as a museum, we are NOT selling, we are just wanting to make sure we don’t hurt anyone’s feelings by NOT displaying it. You never know, you may have a relative that will come asking if grandma’s wedding dress is still on display or if the tractor grandpa donated is still working…

I realize that things take longer if you go through a committee but I have also found that you also get many good ideas and also cooperation to get the work done in less time. I have been on many committees and several boards.  It is wonderful to see how board’s missions which are articulated and followed can accomplish great things.  As a writing teacher, I see my students’ essays as either being clunky and not getting their message across or those students who know how to streamline their thoughts in writing and get the basic, simple story told.

Instead what we have is a LOT of redundancy (which is never fun to read if you want to see creativity in your students’ writing) and we have a resulting storage issue at the museum.  We need to be either displaying things that are vital to the mission of telling the County story OR store things in acid free boxes which costs money and takes up valuable space.  What we ALSO need to do is sell those things in a live auction so that other interested people can have some of the extra things that are clutter and not needed in our museum.  So, the very people who are concerned about spending too much money on wifi at the Carnegie or other necessary things for proper security or storage are also the ones who DO NOT want to sell things in an auction.

Another problem is that we are short staffed with willing and capable volunteers and we have no museum director because at this point we can’t afford one.  The roadblocks and obstacles that seem to be standing in the way seem insurmountable but I think I have been placed in this job for a reason…I will NOT give up. Hopefully those who are saying negative things about me will step down from their positions of “authority” and be replaced by those who have good ideas and are active enough to see them through.  I don’t see how you can be a “director” on a board if you are NOT directing anything.  Unless, of course, your direction is to be negative and be a naysayer about the person who is trying to get things done.

Okay, I think I will see what can be accomplished with grading my students’ papers.

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Hats, hats and more hats!


Blue feather hats would be stunning


You can be patriotic and stylish too!


Some might prefer GREEN for their fashion look!

I have gotten through nearly two weeks of teaching composition at my university. Also, I have gotten my first 40 papers from my students to read through. Giving feedback to them will be easy because these have written good essays on their grandparents, I have read some very good “rough drafts.”  The one class is better than the earlier one that starts at 9:00 a.m.  I got to my empty classroom yesterday at 8:15 a.m. to set up.  At least I “thought” it was empty. No, there in the corner of this small room that seats 20 students, close to the open windows was one of my students sleeping soundly.  I let him sleep because I didn’t know if he was having roommate problems and just needed the extra shut eye.  Turns out that in this full classroom that the next two people who came into the room were a part of this guy’s table.They sat down right next to this deep into sleep guy. Finally, I woke Bubba up and he go up with a bright smile yet tired look.  He is a big football player, a nose guard. As it turns out, the coach uses my classroom on the second floor for early morning team meetings at 7:00 a.m.

Well, the two classes went well with my students handing in their first assignment and listening to the head librarian talk about our university’s research databases. I have read all of the papers now and will hand them back tomorrow with my feedback.  It takes a LONG time to read them and give the necessary and constructive comments.  Some need help on organization, others need to work on details in their content, while others need help with grammar and spelling.  A few need extra coaching on all parts of the writing process.  Uffda!

I have HATS on the brain. It is because on Oct. 24th, at the Carnegie, we will have a tea party with ladies. During the tea, we will have a silent auction on some of the hats that we have in storage at the Carnegie.  I have taken photos of over 135 hats and there are even more hats of all shapes and sizes at the museum.  They are a dime a dozen.  We hope we can make $25 or so on each hat when they are up for sale on Oct. 24th.  Lots to organize for that while we will have painting parties again for another fundraiser.  Always something going on.

I’m also thinking about being a party organizer for painting parties. I haven’t talked to my husband about this yet but I enjoyed painting FOUR different pictures two weeks ago during the five parties that we hosted at the Carnegie.  Oh, I DO have enough to do but I think this would be a good outlet for my artistic side.  So much to do…so little time.  In the meanwhile, we will have fun with the hats from the 1940s, ’50s and ’60s.  Hats, hats, hats!


This looks like a hat from Central Asia!

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Started teaching again, scheduler was way ahead of me


Last day of my summer vacation

I had taught two classes in the two of the days of this week. I teach on MWF mornings. I have 40 students total in my two composition classes, they are good kids. Lots of football players from all over the U.S. and some baseball players and then the girl soccer players.  Oh yes, there are volleyball players too.  What was funny the first day of class on Wednesday was that I had asked the registrar on Monday to have one of my classes moved, since they are back to back, together in one classroom. I was hoping for the same room, even the same building would be better than walking across campus in the 10 minute interlude between classes. This is what happens when you let computers take over the master schedule for the whole campus.

As it turned out I got the floor above (in the same building). I thought that I would go to the original classroom on Wednesday, during our first class,  to tell them where our NEW classroom was for Friday’s class.  I realized quickly that something wasn’t right when less than half were in the original room with my missing about 12 students.  So, I went to the NEW location while I gave the first group an assignment to write down for me what their semester schedule looked like.

When I got to the newly assigned classroom, I asked if it was Comp I class to the filled up classroom (well about 13 students were there).  I asked who their comp teacher was and they said my name.  I told them *I* was their teacher and that I had to figure out what to do.  I thought quickly. I saw there were MORE people in the second room even though I had my ppt presentation all set up in the other building.  I told THEM to work on their schedule for the semester while I went back to the first room to retrieve the 8 students.

After this 15 minute snafu, things were normalized and the students were NOT ready to leave because we had had such a short time together.  Today, I had my own problems with technology where I had a hard time with the projector to work with my laptop.  I got through it but that is the advantage of being in the same classroom when they are back to back…no need to fix all the technology again.

Anyway, I am glad we are off to a good start.  I have some very respectful students, most of them are. They e-mail me and call me Dr. or Professor. I told them they could call me by my first name, the one I sign off on when I e-mail the whole class.  In any case, I hope that we all have a good time together because I realize some do NOT like to write long, formal papers.  I told them today that this is NOT high school anymore, we are in university now.

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My Birthday Celebration



nursery open house


What a fun day it was yesterday to be honored for passing into the 6th decade. It started out with sleeping in and then washing my hair before I met up with my folks and we went to a famous garden and nursery about 30 miles from our place.  Since it was their open house, they had plants that were 20% off so I used some of the money my Dad gave me for a birthday present to buy a nine bark tree.  For some reason I really like those trees, maybe because they have such a depth and variation of color.  We have so many box elder trees that just have your usual green leaves…these are a deep accent to any yard.

Then after we had a dinner at a restaurant back at my hometown, we to to work and started cleaning the Carnegie so it looked ready for company at 6:00 p.m. I had invited about 35-40 people with over 200 postcards sent out to tell of our Art Show and Sale for four days.  We got at least 25 friends of mine showing up over the two hours. I was pleased that my cousin showed up with 14 photos his dad’s 1939 aerial shots of my hometown.  Also, my folks were there along with my hubby and the intern who has been working all summer helping to get the Carnegie ready for the big days ahead.  A highlight was having a high school classmate of mine come to this celebration and she also had been to this same nursery and got a big hydrangea plant with white blossoms. Both big plants are sitting in the lobby of the Carnegie until after all the festivities are over with on Saturday.

After the last guests had left at 8:30 we went to the bar and restaurant so that we could eat supper…I also wanted to have another birthday treat.  Turns out that they served a glass of beer and also deep fat fried Oreos. We had a fun meal with my cousin and his wife and then it was time to go home about 10:00 p.m. So it ended up being a LONG but fun day. These are the following people I want to thank for coming to my b.d. party and helping to eat the half sheet of cake.

Thanks to Carol S. Judy E. Jerry K. Janna B and Ken M. Sheldon R. Rae F. Sue H. Mary G. Lynn M. Jim and Kerry S. Anne and Mike M. Twylla and Jim, Phyllis H. Dylan, Paul and Jan, Les and Bonnie and my folks and hubby.  I think it will be a rather mundane celebration next year but we will help celebrate my husband’s moving into the next decade next April.  Fun plans are in store!

cake on tableRae with cake1939 photos with camera

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Photos of the horizon and full moon



It may seem like summer still, may even feel like it with the temps, but we ALL know that fall is just around the corner…that means cold again.  We went to a bonfire last night with friends because of the Blue Moon celebration. It doesn’t happen often but when the full moon happens in the same month, TWICE, well then you have what is called a blue moon.  I don’t know that I have experienced this before so it was fun to be among friends and talk about that among many other things.

I took a picture of the full moon the night before and then I took a picture of the sunset the next night, last night.  I think that we have beautiful sunsets even though our horizon is flat, flat, flat.  See what you think.



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