Shirley Davidson has one of those "outdoor voices", so naturally she is a good fit for the job of ramrod during Pioneer Days.
The 48th Pioneer Days event was held Saturday and Sunday on the Pioneer Village grounds located off County Road 8 on the northeast side of Perham. The energetic Davidson was greeting people as they came in Saturday between phone conversations with people pelting her with questions.
"I am a very loud talker," Davidson laughed. "I have a big mouth, and I am okay with that. I don't need a speaker to talk. My voice carries, it's very heavy, but they listen when I say 'Hey!' They hear me."
Davidson's big voice and her willingness to help came with her when she retired and returned to Perham after serving for 30 years as a Housing and Urban Development (HUD) director in the Twin Cities.
"About a year ago I volunteered to help on the board," Davidson said. "I had retired and moved back here. This was kind of a little, dead duck so I asked if I could help and the next thing I know I am running it."
Davidson also took on the jobs of running the In Their Own Words (ITOW) History Museum and the History, Arts, Cultural Association (HACA) in Perham.
"Last year I had about 10 days to get this thing ready, and we got it ready," Davidson said.
But that was only Round One.
The atmosphere is changing all the time, according to Davidson, who rents out an old ballroom on the Pioneer Village grounds to wedding parties.
"Every year I am adding to it," Davidson said. "We only had a very few weddings out here, but I am booked this year and all of next year is booked. That place is hopping."
Davidson and her crews have been painting in the ballroom and in a little church nearby. Shirley recently installed a chandelier in the ballroom.
"It's cool," Davidson said.
With many things on the grounds falling apart, a construction effort was mounted and what Shirley calls her "tractor boys" are volunteers...volunteers who were not starved for work this past year, as a huge clean-up drive took place.
"People think this is a dump out here," Davidson said. "There was 40 yards of trash. I had a 40-yard dumpster and it was three-deep high. People just throw junk. With the help of cameras that keep watch on the grounds, many of these "dumpers" have been caught and fined by the City of Perham, which owns the property. "This is not a junkyard. It's supposed to be out here to entertain everybody and I think we do."
Davidson enjoys working with nonprofits like the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW), which runs a food stand.
"This is their biggest way to make money," Davidson said. "They donate all their funds to the Fergus Falls VFW Home. They have breakfast and lunch."
HACA, another non-profit, served a homemade chicken dinner Saturday night. A tractor pull was one of Pioneer Village's big draws on Sunday.
"Everyday it seems like I've got something going on out here, everyday," Davidson said.
Volunteer labor comes at a premium, so Davidson has relied a lot on friends and relatives.
"It's very hard to get people to volunteer," Davidson said. "Ninety percent out here are either friends or family." My dad (Wayne Romann) is 95; he's out here. My mother (Pearl Romann) who is 87, is out here. My dad polished the dance floor. You couldn't dance there last year. It's beautiful."
Davidson also gave credit to her parents for cleaning everything in the antique building. The senior couple put in three weeks of work before Pioneer Days began. Fortunately for Davidson, she has a very large family and many of them enjoy great longevity.
"My husband keeps telling me 'Shirley, you're retired.' Yes, I am retired, but I came back here to give back," she said.
A blast from the past
Walk into Pioneer Village and you find yourself in the past. The time trip includes antique tractors and other farm implements that started with cranks, vintage automobiles, a baby steam engine, a belt-driven shingle making saw, a huge belt-driven buzz saw for slicing lumber into boards, a cannon, old household gadgets (like a Maytag gas-powered washing machine), old water-cooled gas engines, farm animals and wild animals and vendors with many different wares. Even further back there are big pitched tents and camp sites filled with heavy, black cooking equipment. There is a black powder shooting range with men and women wearing the same kind of clothing the early mountain men and French trappers wore. They load and fire their pieces one shot at a time amid smoke, noise and a flash of fire.
The buckskin crowd are friendly neighbors, according to Davidson.
"That is a whole other group but they work with us," Davidson said. "We take our groups in there and they come in here."
Davidson is proud of the fact that she is one of the people running Pioneer Village who have children in mind.
"I want children to know there was a world before computers," Davidson said. "There were things before cars; there were tractors, we made a living." I want to show kids today that it's not all about the Internet, computers and a phone."
Davidson then stopped and started to laugh at herself. Clutched in her left hand was her smartphone.
"That's my life," she laughed.