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WWII-era exhibit comes to Perham

This photo, of children outside a theater in Minneapolis in 1931, is just one of many that will be on exhibit at the In Their Own Words Veterans Museum through Oct. 20. From the collection of the Minnesota Historical Society.1 / 2
A VJ Day crowd in downtown Minneapolis, Sept. 2, 1945. From the collection of the Minnesota Historical Society2 / 2

This month, Perham will join the ranks of a handful of major cities across the nation, including Boulder, Col., and Pensacola, Fla., when it plays host to a renowned traveling exhibit about life and culture during World War II.

Of the 23 cities that are scheduled to host the exhibit over the next few years, Perham has the distinction of being the smallest. And it is the only one in Minnesota.

So what brings this high-profile exhibit - "Our Lives, Our Stories: America's Greatest Generation" - to town?

The In Their Own Words Veterans Museum.

"This is the only place in the nation that's dedicated to telling stories of America's veterans, in their own words," said the museum's Executive Director, Lina Belar. "It's the perfect fit for this exhibit."

Like the ITOW museum itself, "Our Lives, Our Stories" shares people's personal histories - as told in their own words. The exhibit draws on memories and oral histories that, when put together, help create a better understanding of the generation commonly referred to today as "America's Greatest."

Born in the 1910s and '20s, this generation lived through WWII, created the "baby boom," and shaped the economic landscape of the postwar era. Today - well into the 21st century - the world is still living with their legacy.

"This is a piece of history that has affected us all," said Belar. "Even though we may be several decades away from WWII ourselves, it had a huge impact on America. I think this exhibit helps put the world - and our own places in it - into context."

The exhibit focuses not just on WWII-era soldiers, but on the population as a whole. It explores the human impact of events that marked major turning points, including not just the war but also the Depression, the bombing of Pearl Harbor, the rising awareness of Civil Rights, and the growth of media-driven consumer culture during the postwar boom.

"Our Lives, Our Stories" seeks to restore wholeness to the modern-day understanding of this generation, revealing a complex mix of real people who truly helped shape the world.

The exhibit, which was originally developed by the Minnesota Historical Society, was adapted and is toured by Mid-America Arts Alliance through NEH on the Road, a program of the National Endowment for the Humanities. It kicked off in Utah in November 2010, and is currently scheduled to tour through most of 2015.

It is making a nearly two-month stop in Perham thanks to Belar, who first heard of the exhibit a couple of years ago. She sent in an application to host it on behalf of ITOW, and the application was accepted.

Last spring, Belar traveled to Little Rock, Ark., paid for by NEH, to take part in a 3-day workshop. While there, she learned how to install and promote the exhibit, and got the chance to network with other selected hosts.

"Most of the other places are pretty big museums and venues in bigger cities," Belar said. "We're the smallest town to be selected."

Since then, she's been working behind the scenes to prepare for the exhibit's arrival. Community involvement is a big part of this exhibit, so a committee was formed to start generating some public interest. Committee members were also tasked with finding and scheduling some related entertainment and events.

The group has planned a variety of events to take place during the exhibit, throughout September and October, including special guest appearances, live music performances, shows, and more - all relating to the WWII era. (See the side box for a schedule).

"There'll be a variety of things," said Belar. "The idea was to always have people involved with the exhibit, not just walking through it. It's going to be a lot of fun."

The museum is also taking an additional step to make sure everyone gets the most out of this exhibit - it's recruiting and training in local people to act as docents, or tour guides.

"We'll have people around so that when you come to the exhibit, you're not left to wander around by yourself. There will be people there to tell you a little bit more about it; tell you about the background and give you some ideas to talk about," said Belar.

The ITOW is also putting together its own exhibit-within-the-exhibit, adding some local WWII-era memorabilia into the mix.

"There's a fair amount of excitement around the community already," Belar said of what she's been hearing around town. "We're trying to reach out to people that we haven't necessarily reached out to before. Trying to get the word out there."

A number of people have been invited to attend the exhibit's grand opening at ITOW. At press time, state Rep. Bud Nornes was scheduled to speak, and Congressman Collin Peterson was also likely to make an appearance. Other politicians and special guests were invited, but hadn't yet replied.

"Our Lives, Our Stories: America's Greatest Generation" will be on exhibit at the ITOW Veterans Museum starting Sept. 1 and ending Oct. 20. For more information, call 346-7678 or visit

The ITOW museum is open Monday-Saturday from 10 a.m. - 5 p.m. and Sunday 1-4 p.m. Veterans and their families get in for free. Admission for adults is $4, $2 for students.


09/01: Grand Opening. 10 a.m.

09/02 & 09/16: Sgt. Paul Ceynowa visits. Walk through the battle of Iwo Jima with this WWII Marine, who was there and will talk about his experience. 3 p.m. Free.

09/09: Brian Horrigan, curator of the Minnesota History Center, will talk about the creation of the exhibit. 3 p.m.

09/14: NDSU professor, John K. Cox, will talk about the growth of Nazism and Stalinism, their problems and strengths. 7 p.m.

09/23: Michael Lasser presents "All the Old Familiar Places," a program about popular music of WWII. 1 p.m.

10/07: Dale Blanshan presents "Norman Rockwell and Patriotism," a tour of selections of Rockwell paintings about soldiers and the American spirit, accompanied by patriotic music. 3 p.m.

10/12 & 10/13: Pippa White presents "Voices from the Resistance," a one-woman drama that tells the true stories of five resistance fighers in WWII who risked their lives to do all they could to bring down the Nazi regime. 7 p.m. (10/13 will also have a 3 p.m. show).

Every Wednesday during the exhibit: Movie Night

For more info, call 346-7678.