Presenting the past: Former serviceman honors the military through volunteerism
Editor’s note: This is the second in a series of feature stories on local volunteers and volunteer opportunities. The series kicked off the week of April 21-27, National Volunteer Week.
As a history buff and former serviceman, Ervin Wegscheid finds a lot to love at the In Their Own Words Veterans Museum in Perham.
That’s why he’s made ITOW one of his volunteer homes-away-from home, faithfully spending one day a week there to greet visitors and give tours.
He started actively volunteering at ITOW after retiring about six years ago, and has enjoyed every minute spent there since.
“I love meeting people,” he said in an interview last week, adding that he also loves sharing history – especially with youth.
“A lot of kids don’t know that we (veterans) have fought for their freedoms – freedom of speech, freedom of religion...all freedoms,” he said. “The kids in school just don’t know what their parents and grandparents went through.”
But Wegscheid aims to change that, through education and story sharing.
At the beginning of every museum tour, participants get a questionnaire, “and I want them to know all the answers by the time they leave here,” he said.
Those who know and work alongside Wegscheid are well aware of his dedication.
“Erv is an incredible person. He is caring, dependable and truly cares about giving back to the community,” said Marcia Davis, president of the ITOW board of directors. “His commitment to the core mission of ITOW, collecting and sharing veterans’ stories, is unwavering. He is also an excellent tour guide for the permanent exhibit at ITOW.”
“Erv is a knowledgeable, considerate and wonderful volunteer,” said the museum’s coordinator, Julie Listrom. “He always has time to give personal tours and answer questions about the exhibits.”
In addition to his regular volunteering every Thursday, Wegscheid spends many extra hours at ITOW to help out during busy times or special exhibits and events.
“I have a lot of respect for the military,” he said.
He also has a lot of respect for “what we’re trying to do here at ITOW,” which is preserving the stories of veterans, straight from their own lips, for future generations. The World War II veterans from the Perham area have all passed away, Wegscheid explained, and Korean War vets are numbering fewer and fewer – making it all the more important that their stories are collected and saved.
Wegscheid himself is a veteran of the Korean War. A farm boy from Bluffton, he remembers watching tanks and other war supplies being carried across the country on trains that crossed his family’s property.
At the age of 18, he went into the Army. He served from 1952-1955, spending 19 months overseas in Germany. When it was all said and done, he came out a Staff Sergeant.
After that, Wegscheid became an entrepreneur, working for the then-fledgling Kmart discount store company. That’s where he met his wife, Dolores. The pair moved to the Perham area in 1970 and had four children who attended St. Henry’s School. Wegscheid eventually went into business for himself, selling Rand McNally maps throughout the area.
“I always found something to do,” he said.
Through it all, he never forgot his military connection. In addition to volunteering at ITOW, Wegscheid is an active volunteer with the Dent Haimerl American Legion Post 148, and regularly participates in the Color Guard with the Perham VFW.
He also spends every Friday at Perham Health, volunteering to give tours and greet visitors there.
“I love giving tours,” he said. “A lot of people just don’t understand what we have here. We have a very modern hospital here. It’s a gift. It’s the same with ITOW.”
ITOW is always in need of more volunteers. For more information, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 346-7676.