Mary Jo Dathe explains the inventions that originated in Spring Valley to Danielle Scholze, at left, and Erin Larimer, at right, during the Historic Forestville Heritage Circle program Monday, April 5, at the Spring Valley Public Library.
Mary Jo Dathe explains the inventions that originated in Spring Valley to Danielle Scholze, at left, and Erin Larimer, at right, during the Historic Forestville Heritage Circle program Monday, April 5, at the Spring Valley Public Library.
"I was born in 1941, and I live on our farm out by Mystery Cave ... I've lived there all my life, and for 158 years, nobody paid much attention to the iron ore in the ground," said Sam Blakeslee, recounting at the Spring Valley Public Library last Monday evening his lifetime's beginning and his association with iron ore mining in Fillmore County.
Three feet away, Lynn Mensink of Greenleafton, held up maps as he shared, "This caught my attention as we were planning a family reunion about five years ago - we went to the Fillmore County History Center and one of the workers found a map of the stagecoach route, and we found out that it actually went through a small corner of my farm..."
Across the room, Bernie Finke of Cherry Grove, recalled, "My dad and Bernard Pietenpol tried to build airplanes...... they started studying up on them ... one of the reasons they studied was they had an eighth grade education. After about seven years, they found a way to build an airplane powered with Model A engines, and that made them cheap enough that everybody could buy them ... my dad was 17 at the time, and he ordered a blueprint kit from the Sears catalog and drew blueprints without any training, and they still use those blueprints today to build Pietenpol airplanes. This is part of your Fillmore County heritage - you have something to be proud of."
Eagerly listening, taking notes and recording the stories were Kingsland sixth grade students who were chosen by their teacher, Paul Eckheart, to participate in the Minnesota Historical Society (MHS) and Historic Forestville "Heritage Circle" intergenerational program.
Historic Forestville Site Manager Sandy Scheevel explained, "Historic Forestville and the Minnesota Historical Society (MHS) have developed an intergenerational program called 'Heritage Circle,' with the intent of connecting generations through history. Youth and senior citizens in today's communities rarely have the opportunity to interact with one another in a positive or meaningful way. Stories of young and old alike are intertwined in the ongoing narrative of their community's history, but are seldom shared."
Blakeslee, Mensink and Finke were three of seven senior community members contributing their oral histories to the MHS project. Also sharing were former educator Rita Hartert, speaking about one-room schoolhouses, Historic Forestville founders' descendant David Foster, and Spring Valley historians Sharon Jahn and Mary Jo Dathe.
Scheevel said, "This program is made possible by the assistance of area community partners who share similar goals and who have a common vision and purpose. Community-based partners include several area seniors - local treasures, several Kingsland sixth grade students and their teacher, and the Spring Valley Public Library."
The senior participants have chosen a heritage topic "of which they have specialized knowledge, and will create a three- to five-minute presentation that includes personal stories and connections, photos and artifacts related to their topics."
"These presentations will be collectively shared with the students during the 'Heritage Circle' program. Students in turn will interact with the seniors by interviewing and digitally recording the conversations during the presentations. They'll also take digital photos and film the program, and upon completion of the program, they'll visit some of the selected historical areas and sites so they can further experience the topics shared during the presentations."
The sixth graders will then compile a book online at, outlining their "Heritage Circle" experiences, "a Web-based audio-visual component is being created as well," and copies of the books will be presented to local libraries, senior living centers and schools in May.
"Upon completion of the project, a final event for the general public will be held in May at the Spring Valley Public Library to showcase the efforts made throughout this endeavor. Ceremonial donation of the books to representatives of the area libraries, senior centers and school will take place and a viewing of the film and sound slides will be shared. There'll also be a little lunch."
Scheevel developed the program as part of statewide efforts to promote cultural preservation.
He noted, "The 'Heritage Circle' program as well as other intergenerational programming is being created statewide as part of the Arts and Cultural Heritage Legacy Initiative. Locally, Historic Forestville is taking the lead in coordinating the program and events in our area.
"One of the most effective ways for young people to study local history is through a program like this. It is personal and interactive with the people that lived the stories being shared. The benefits of intergenerational programs create awareness for youth to learn about various stages of the life cycle, to develop roles outside the family, develop social skills and to learn skills of another generation. We hope students will develop a positive and appreciative attitude toward the process of aging."
She added, "The stories being shared as part of this program are stories that in many cases may well lay in the category of 'lost' if not told and documented now. These personal narratives are aimed to connect generations through history and to raise awareness of the importance of passing down community's local heritage."
Scheevel emphasized the importance of logging the experiences of seemingly everyday citizens.
"We are all shopkeepers, contractors, government workers, or newspaper reporters - we all have stories to tell. We are thankful that several members of the area agreed to participate in this program and are willing to share their own personal life experiences and their involvement in their local history of the community. This project will provide recognition for local older adults who have been willing to give of their time and abilities to fulfill this charge. In addition, it is hoped that new outreach programs can be produced and shared as well throughout our area. It's going to be fun!"
For more information on the general public "Heritage Circle" event slated for May, contact Sandy Scheevel or John Grabko at (507) 765-2785.