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Letter to the Editor: Museums need community support

A few years ago when I moved the Perham area (which I had always loved visiting when my grandparents, aunts and uncles lived in this region), I felt a compelling desire to do something for the community.

I kept reading about ITOW in the newspaper. What a wonderful idea, to capture veteran's oral histories. One day I headed to the history museum and spoke to Lina Belar, the executive director. She started me out interviewing veterans. That is when I realized just how powerful, unique and fascinating each veteran's story was!

We had so many veterans in this region with experiences that were mesmerizing. A woman who was at the Potsdam conference and handed private communications to Truman, the most highly decorated non-commissioned officer in the United States, a person who saw Mussolini hung and many prisoners of war. Viet Nam veterans who had never spoken previously shared their stories. Vets from the Desert Storm, Afghanistan and Iraqi conflicts are starting to share their stories, "In Their Own Words."

I was hooked.

I respect what this community has built in ITOW. The foundational idea, thanks to people with vision, community support, our veterans and kind donors, became a reality. The current ITOW houses a fascinating permanent exhibit, over 250 interviews and also has events and exhibits to bring people to the museum.

Eventually I ended up joining the Friends of the History Museum of East Otter Tail County Board, which oversees both the history and ITOW museums.

ITOW continues to bring interesting exhibits and events to Perham and this region. This past summer, ITOW was host to the National Endowment for the Humanities traveling exhibit, "Our Lives, Our Stories: Americas Greatest Generation." Perham was the only site in Minnesota to host this exhibit. We had over 2,400 visitors, which included 1,100 docent-led tours plus over 800 school children. Several of these people spent time and money at local motels, restaurants and businesses, a welcome side effect of visiting ITOW.

Belar recently announced her retirement as executive director; unknown to many people in our community, she works for $1 per year. She does this because she has a passion for both museums. The wonderful events, exhibits and managing of the museums must transition to someone else, but I know we will not be able to find a volunteer to do what Lina has done. While most of my focus has been on ITOW, because of my strong belief in collecting veteran's stories, both museums bring 'cultural capital' to this community.

You may see an appeal letter from the museum in your mailbox. I ask you to give generously. If you do not see an appeal, feel free to give so we can conduct a job search for a new director and move to the next stage of ITOW, which is sharing veteran's stories nationwide to schools, teachers, students, history buffs and families through our new interactive website, which we hope to have in place late 2013.

We are confident the city, community and entire region will continue to support these valuable assets.

Stop by and see us.

Marcia Davis

Dent, MN

Davis is President of the Friends of the History Museum of East Otter Tail County