August 25, 2012

Pioneer Museum: Recording the past, focusing on the future

Kevin Bonham, Grand Forks Herald

NORTHWOOD, N.D. — Not too long ago, Brock Sherva was helping other volunteers digitally catalog restored artifacts at the Pioneer Museum, which was severely damaged by the E4 tornado that ripped through five years ago today.

He came across a U.S. Navy uniform, with the name, “Grotte.”

“At first, I just thought it was an old uniform that someone donated to the museum,” said Sherva, now a senior at Northwood High School. “Now, he’s my buddy that I never got to meet.”

It turns out that uniform belonged to 2nd Lt. Jerome Grotte, a Northwood native who was a survivor of the USS Arizona, which was destroyed at Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941.

After talking with some longtime volunteers at the museum, Sherva learned that Grotte initially was believed to be among the 1,177 officers and crewmen who died on the ship. His obituary was printed in his hometown newspaper, The Northwood Gleaner, under the headline, “Northwood Boy Dies in Service to His Country.”

“He read his own obituary on his return trip home,” Sherva said. “That’s got to be creepy.”

Grotte returned to Northwood after the war, remaining in the community until he died in 2004 at the age of 88.

It’s that kind of history that hooked Sherva on the Pioneer Museum.

Larrie Wanberg, left, has enlisted Northwood students Sonja Bilden and Brock Sherva to help prepare a video history of Northwood. photo by Eric Hylden/Grand Forks Herald

Today, he’s co-chairman, along with Evelyn Arnett, of the museum’s new digital storytelling program, which is part of the Dakota Heritage Institute’s digital Museum Without Walls project.

Today, Sherva and his colleagues, Sonja Bilden and Corey Hagen, also Northwood High School seniors, will join a group of Northwood-area senior citizens, at an Open House at the museum, from 1 to 3 p.m.

It’s a launching of the program designed to spread the story of Northwood — both physically and digitally — of its first 125 years, including the 2007 tornado and the community’s recovery, to the next generation.

Focus on future

The museum was hit hard by the Aug. 26, 2007 tornado. The restoration project cost about $40,000 and thousands of volunteer hours.

“This is about the new generation, the next generation that will be running the museum,” said Larrie Wanberg, the museum’s volunteer curator and director of the Museum Without Walls project. “It isn’t so much so much dwelling on the tornado as it is focusing on the future.”

Wanberg recruited Sherva for the program after his audio-essay, “Is There Pride in Serving in the Military?” took first place at Northwood High School and third in the region in the Veterans of Foreign Wars annual Voice of Democracy scholarship program.

Sherva then asked classmates Bilden and Hagen to join the team.

Over the next three months, they will record one- to three-minute video interviews with military veterans from the Northwood area. The interviews will be presented in an online video showing on Veterans Day, according to Wanberg.

The crew already has created more than 2,500 digital photographs of artifacts on display in the museum. The next step is to learn some of the history of the artifacts, and to add some life to them through digital stories.

Those photos and stories will be made available on the museum’s website.

They’ll be accompanied by digital Q-R codes, to allow people with smart phones to scan the code and read the stories.

Wanberg also hopes to create a digital photo studio, where people stop in and tell their stories, and an e-commerce teleport in downtown Northwood.

“This could be the town’s biggest draw,” Wanberg said. “The point is to preserve the history and to sustain the museum and make it grow.”

Sherva doesn’t yet have plans for what he’ll do after he graduates. But he’s starting to believe that history will be at least an avocation.

“At first, when I started, I just thought of this as a bunch of old stuff,” he said. “But we’re learning that it’s so much more.”

And he’s determined to make sure the story of Jerry Grotte, the friend he never knew, will live on long after even he’s gone.

More information about the “Museum Without Walls” project is available at: