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Looking for Hermantown stories for historical play

Hermantown native Lynn Peterson is working on a play about the history of Hermantown. She is looking for people willing to share their stories about growing up in the city. Peterson is hosting two gatherings, at 2 p.m. on Tuesdays, Feb. 7 and 14, at the Hermantown History Center, 5255 Maple Grove Rd., to allow individuals to reminisce and share their stories. (Photo submitted)

Although she spent 20 years teaching drama at Proctor High School, Hermantown native Lynn Peterson is taking her dramatic skills back to her hometown this summer. Peterson is writing a play about the history of Hermantown to be staged during Summerfest activities in July.

“It’s my way of giving back to the community. I grew up in Hermantown and always loved the community,” Peterson said. “I also think it’s important for people who live in the district, who maybe don’t know about the history of Hermantown, to maybe see a dramatization of it. They become more invested in what’s going on in the community and know some of the people who made it such a great community.”

With a little help from former Hermantown kindergarten teacher Linda Bray, Peterson has spent the past several months conducting research with the Hermantown Historical Society, interviewing individuals who grew up in the area and collecting photos. But she needs more individuals willing to share their stories.

“I’m looking for human interest stories. A play that’s just facts isn’t very interesting. It’s the stories and memories that really reaches people,” Peterson said.

“We want to collect stories. Because that’s what history is, it’s stories,” Bray said.

Peterson has experience in writing historical plays. In 2012, for her final stage production at Proctor High School, Bray wrote and directed a play titled “Rails Serenade: A brief history of Proctor.”

“A serenade is a love song. And that’s what it was, really, a love song to Proctor,” Peterson said. The students performed a series of short scenes, monologues and vignettes accompanied by actual photos, projected behind the actors, featuring the historical figures and real life locations. After seeing the Proctor show, Hermantown Historical Society member Bob Swanstrom asked Peterson if she’d be willing to write something similar for her hometown. She agreed.

“I think Hermantown is just a real vibrant community and its stories need to be told,” Peterson said.

Peterson is particularly looking for stories from individuals who grew up in a Jackson Project home in the 1940s and 50s. The Jackson Project were a series of brick homes created as a part of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Federal Subsistence Homesteads project in the 1930s. It was one of the many projects created to combat the effects of the Great Depression. Peterson’s father grew up in a Jackson Project home and she remembers visiting her grandmother there.

“I’d like to hear more about what it was like to grow up in those brick homes, back in the day,” Peterson said.

Peterson and Bray are looking for other stories as well. Some of the interesting tidbits Bray has picked up from her conversations with people include anecdotes about visiting the Locker Plant to store meat, kids fishing in the river between the lanes of Highway 53 and a visit from Olympian Jesse Owens.

“Did you know that Jesse Owens spoke at the 1960 graduation ceremony? Isn’t it cool to think about that? I’ve talked to people who were graduating that year, but no one remembers what he talked about,” Bray said. “But it’s fun, gathering the pieces like that and piecing it all together like a puzzle. Those kinds of things keep you digging.”

Peterson and Bray are hosting two gatherings, at 2 p.m. on Tuesdays, Feb. 7 and 14, at the Hermantown History Center, 5255 Maple Grove Rd., to allow individuals to reminisce and share their stories. If you are unable to attend the gathering, please send your recollections to Carol Bjorlin or call 729-9173 by Feb. 20.

Teri Cadeau

Teri Cadeau is a reporter for the Budgeteer.

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