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Faces of change at Otter Tail County Historical Society

The exhibit The Faces of Change is now open at the Otter Tail County Historical Society. It will run from Jan. 4 - Feb. 15.

Pelican Rapids has seen many waves of immigration in its long history. The first immigrants were indigenous peoples, the most famous of those perhaps Minnesota Woman, the skeleton found buried beneath Highway 59 in 1931. Native Americans were followed by Yankees from the east coast, then Norwegians, Germans, and Swedes. Pelican Rapids became a thriving agricultural town. By 1982, the population was 1,835 and the business directory listed eighteen churches in the area, thirteen of which were Lutheran.

In the 1950's a turkey processing facility was built. It became the backbone of the community's job market. The plant was a magnet for the next wave of immigrants, a source of jobs for people with little or no training, or for those who couldn't speak English. In the 1970's, the complexion of the community began to change. At first slowly, and then more rapidly, migrant workers from Mexico and south Texas came to work in the turkey plant.

During the 1980's refugees began moving to the area. Then, the trickle of refugees became a flood. In the 1990's, over 700 new immigrants moved to Pelican Rapids. The refugees chose Pelican for many reasons; they had relatives in town, they had heard that there were jobs, and they had heard that the people were friendly. The population surged by 35 percent, and the 2000 census listed 2500 residents. This population increase presented many challenges to the community.

These are the refugees and immigrants, people driven from their homes in search of something better. The Faces of Change exhibit begins to tell those stories.

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