Why I Do This...

The Author, age 7
Some people have asked me why I care so much about my hometown and all our neighbors.  It's simple:  I love them.  I love the people that touched my life in so many ways, I love the homes and public spaces that were just an extension of my own home.  The people were not just village residents or neighbors.  The buildings were not just wood, glass and stone.  They were my extended family.  The influence they left on me is indelible, deep, and positive.  It was not perfect - there was tragedy and there were secrets, as there always is with people - but it was a very special place and time.  I sometimes wonder if it wasn't because so many who came originally to settle in St. Vincent came in groups, with roots already established elsewhere that they brought along.  My mother always said we were related to most of the County!

The comments below, given by Mike Rustad, are very perceptive about what I've been trying to do here over the past several years. When I began writing here back in 2005, people like Garrison Keillor inspired me to take my research and interpret it through the lens of fairness, kindness, yet honesty...
I think your brand of critical history is courageous and fair-minded. I cannot think of another friend who is so honorable in presenting community history. There is nothing worse that sugar-coated history. It is not satisfying to paint St. Vincent or Humboldt as a Mayberry. The truth of it is that these small towns had social problems such as religious intolerance, alcoholism, poverty, and inequality.
I remember that our [consolidated] school was the beneficiary of a Lyceum Program sponsored by the state. One Lyceum program that I remember was a talk by a Syrian expatriate. His book was called, A Syrian Trader. My parents invited the speaker for dinner and I remember his stories of life outside of Damascus. It brought history alive. My parents were progressive and open to meeting new friends from other cultures. Our community was insular in its outlook. When the high school school board hired Mrs. Josephine Bunton, an African-American home economics teacher, there was an initial furor. Mrs. Bunton won over the community with her warmth and her genuine interest in education. The first African American that I ever remember seeing in Humboldt was in the 1950s. An African-American group of musicians played brilliantly for the school assembly and the gym literally rocked. Yet, I remember racial epithets being used to describe these gifted musicians. I have a memory of a few narrow-minded students complaining that they dressed in the music room. I vividly remember that the complaints were race-based. Thankfully, we had some members of the community who helped to set a positive tone. I remember a group of students teasing a child, who today would be regarded as having educational deficits. That child was tormented until Velma Isley boarded the bus and told the bullies that they should be ashamed of themselves. The bullying stopped immediately. These anecdotes remind us not to create a Utopian Red River Valley when we view it through the lens of history. I think it is important that our history be shared and critical. As for Miss Younggren, she brought much recognition to the school. She was featured in an article in the Grand Forks Herald written by journalist Don Jacob. Her students appeared on television and were acclaimed. The negative side of her pedagogy was that she did not always recognize that the shy or quiet student could be one of her best. A generation of students will remember Mr. Carelessness and the Dunce Cap. Today, these teaching methods would not be acceptable. The positive side of Ms. Younggren is that she expected the impossible and achieved the possible. Today, we have so many teachers who do not expect much and it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. I felt that I was victimized by very weak elementary teachers especially in my first and second grades. I remember our second grade teacher telling brother Tony: "I do not like you nor your brother." My first grade teacher locked me in a dark closet for asking too many questions. Your account of history reminds us to heed Justice Louis Brandeis advice: Sunlight is the best of all disinfectants.
I think that your site is of such great interest because you are nuanced in the way you present the history. My early efforts, so many of them, were Mayberry-like visions of a world that does not exist. I changed my view when I spoke with Helen Tri and she began telling me about the positives as well as the negatives of her experience being a widow in the 1950s in a small town. I enjoyed a close relationship with Helen for a number of years and she really educated me and she followed your motto to couple honesty with decency and insight. You are one of the most insightful persons I know. You are really a role model to me in how you manage to show such genuine respect for opinions that are different from yours. You are a true American and a pluralist in the most positive sense. My tendencies are to be agitated by right wing comments or intolerance. You have this serenity about you even when you take exception to parochialism. I am sure those are qualities that your family much appreciates!
There is no puffery or sales talk at all in my characterization of your work. Your work is the most important bond I have to my growing up years.
The Author today...

I thank Mike for his kind words, and am humbled by them. I continue to add stories as I discover them. I hope you'll come by often and explore, and get to know my corner of the world. It was very special; my nightly dreams are often filled with its memories...



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