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News from the week of July 5, 2006



New Small Cities grant bid eyed by Tracy leaders

By Seth Schmidt

The Tracy Economic Development Authority (EDA) and the City of Tracy are poised to move forward with a new community development grant application.

Both city boards have discussed the state grant at recent meetings. Consensus is to begin the grant application process, in hopes of getting grant money next year.

“This is something we certainly need to do,” said Councilman Russ Stobb, at a June 26 council meeting.

Civic leaders hope to follow up on a $934,000 Small Cities grant that Tracy was awarded in 2003. The Minnesota Department of Economic Development grant money triggered about $1.5 million in commercial and residential housing construction in Tracy over a three-year period.

The EDA, with the blessings of the council, is scheduled to discuss the grant application Friday. Representatives of the Southwest Minnesota Housing Partnership have talked with city leaders about spearheading a Tracy grant application.

Robert Gervais, Tracy community development director, feels that if more grant money became available, many Tracy property owners would want to participate. In the 2003-05 grant program, state grant money helped rehabilitate 25 owner-occupied houses. An additional 22 residential applications had to be tabled because the grant money ran out. Fifteen to 20 homeowners asked about the program, but didn’t submit an application, because they knew there wasn’t any more grant money, Gervais said.

“There definitely would be interest if we got another grant,” Gervais said.

Lisa Graphenteen of the Southwest Minnesota Housing Partnership told council members last week that the waiting list would be “a really strong point” for a new Tracy grant application.

Graphenteen said that a new Small Cities grant program would be similar to Tracy’s first program. Low interest loans and “forgivable” loans would be offered for owner-occupied residential housing, commercial buildings, and rental units. However, a second Tracy grant program might not need to be limited to a small “target” area. Graphenteen said. Tracy’s first Small Cities program was limited to the Central Downtown area and residential neighborhoods near downtown.

“They (the Department of Economic Development) are becoming more flexible. If you have citywide rehab needs, you can do projects over a citywide area. It doesn’t have to be a tight, five or six-block area,” Graphenteen said.

Graphenteen said that conducting a survey of Tracy property owners is the first step in the Small Cities grant application process. The $1,000 survey would be taken to determine residential and commercial rehab needs in the city. If the survey results are favorable for a Tracy grant application, Graphenteen said, then the Southwest Minnesota Housing would recommend continuing with the full grant application. A complete grant application would cost an additional $7,500.

Council and EDA members have indicated that the $8,500 for the survey and application expenses could be taken from an EDA housing fund.


Pageant wagons hitched for 29th year

Walnut Grove’s Wilder Pageant is set to roll for its 29th season.

Opening night is Friday, July 7, with Saturday and Sunday night performances following. The Pageant Singers put on a musical show at 8 p.m., followed by the pageant at 9 p.m. Gates open at 7 p.m.

Performances continue for the next two weekends, July 14-16 and 21-23.

The popular pageant depicts pioneer life in the 1870s near Walnut Grove.

Portraying the Ingalls family this year are Errol Steffen (Charles), Mary Zwach (Caroline), Kallie Gundermann (Mary), Katie Dusek (Laura), Maddie Hemp (Carrie), and Anna Lee Bayer (Grace).

The pageant is based upon the Laura Ingalls book “On the Banks of Plum Creek.”

In 1874, when Laura was seven, the Ingalls family left their home near Pepin, WI., and settled north of Walnut Grove. The family lived in a dugout in the creek bank until Pa could build a house. Laura and Mary began school, and made both friends (the Kennedy children) and enemies (Nellie Oleson).

Laura’s baby brother, Charles Frederic Ingalls (Freddy), was born in Walnut Grove on Nov. 1, 1875, although Laura did not include this in her books because he only lived for nine months.

Pa Ingalls felt that Minnesota would be “the land of milk and honey,” but a plague of grasshoppers destroyed the family’s wheat crops two years in a row. The grasshopper scourge is one of several hardships endured by the Ingalls that is depicted in the pageant.

Faced with hard times on the farm, Pa accepted a job managing a hotel in Burr Oak, IA and the family moved there in 1876. A year later, the family returned to Walnut Grove.

Laura, nearly 11 years old when the family returned to Walnut Grove, was enough to earn money for the family by babysitting and doing odd jobs. At first, the Ingalls family lived with their friends, the Ensigns. Pa built a house in town, and worked as a storekeeper, butcher, then carpenter.

But difficulties continued to shadow the family. In the spring of 1879, Mary Ingalls became ill. Her illness was followed by a stroke, which resulted in blindness. Soon afterward, Pa’s sister Docia came from the Big Woods and offered him a job with the railroad going west. Though Ma wanted to remain in Walnut Grove, Pa Ingalls felt a better future could be found in Dakota Territory. The family moved to South Dakota, but not without leaving behind a legacy in Walnut Grove that would endure into the 21st Century.

For information on ordering tickets, go to or call (888) 859-3102.


19th century altar art surfaces at Tracy church

By Seth Schmidt

A 19th century painting depicting the ascension of Jesus into heaven is undergoing a resurrection of its own.

Tracy artist Elvera Bisbee is touching up the seven-foot tall painting, which originally graced the altar of Hoiland Lutheran Church. The refurbished painting may be hung in the sanctuary of Tracy Lutheran Church.

“It’s beautiful,” Bisbee said, as she inspected the painting last week.

The canvas is in good condition, except for a series of half-dollar sized spots where the original paint has come off. Bisbee hopes to match colors and textures to cover-up the blemishes.

Newly-arrived Norwegian immigrants founded Hoiland Lutheran in 1878. Parishioners first worshiped in their homes. But in July of 1892, a newly-built church was dedicated on a hillside 2 1/2 miles east of Garvin. The white country church with a single steeple was torn down after the congregation disbanded in 1959. Most of remaining members transferred to either Lake Sarah Lutheran in Garvin or Tracy Lutheran. Today the Hoiland Church cemetery, 4 1/2 miles southwest of Tracy on Lyon County Highway 14, is a silent reminder of the once bustling church.

“It was a thriving congregation,” remembered Doris Johnson, who was a young adult when the church closed. The congregation had active women’s and men’s groups, a large Sunday school, a youth program and Confirmation instruction.

“That was back when every family had ten kids,” Johnson said.

The painting of Christ’s ascension, she said, is very familiar to her. The art, which shows a tranquil Christ suspended in a blue sky with billowy clouds, was originally flanked by ornate, hand-carved woodwork behind the altar. An altar rail, pulpit, Baptismal font and pastor’s chair matched the woodwork around the painting.

“My great grandfather, Johannes Jacobson, built it,” Johnson said. All of the furnishings, and plus the altar painting, were made to match the church the immigrants had left in Norway.


Saving grace?

How the painting got to Tracy Lutheran Church is something of a mystery.

Longtime Tracy Lutheran member Mary Lou Ludeman suspects that Pastor H.L Overstad, who served both Tracy Lutheran and Hoiland when the rural church disbanded, brought the painting to Tracy Lutheran. The painting was stored at Tracy Lutheran until its discovery about 15 years ago. For a time, the painting was displayed at Tracy Lutheran in a stairway landing leading into the basement. The ascension painting was put into storage again when Tracy Lutheran was remodeled in the late 1990s. The painting was forgotten again until it was recently re-discovered by church members in the recesses of a storage room.

A church committee is looking into the possibility of handing the art in the church’s main sanctuary, near the choir loft.

Bisbee and Johnson say that they don’t know who originally created the painting, except that it is an exact duplicate of the altar art at the Hoiland Church in Akerhus County, Norway.

Little is also known about what happened to Hoiland’s fancy altar furnishings, or the woodwork that once surrounded the painting.

Johnson said that she remembers that the church was sold to someone who torn the building down for its lumber.

Hoiland’s Baptismal font is on display at St. Mark’s Museum. But one piece of the altar is known to exist.

Jim Julien, Garvin, who attended Hoiland Lutheran as a child, stumbled upon the piece about ten years ago while working at the former Oscar and Luella Helgeson farmstead.

“It was with a bunch of other old lumber in a shed. I knew right away what it was,” Julien said.

The block of wood was about six feet long, and eight inches deep. Norwegian words were etched into the wood.

“It’s a verse from John. It says, ‘I go to prepare a place for you,’” Julien said.

Oscar Helgeson was a caretaker and longtime member at Hoiland.

Neil Horsman, the owner of the former Helgeson property, told Julien he could have the altar piece, and Julien refinished it. The altarpiece is now displayed in the Julien home.


Family unearths more bones at rural Currie well site

By Valerie Scherbart Quist


Interesting finds continue to turn up in an archaeological dig at the John Malone farm north of Currie.

Last week, John’s brother, Neil Malone and his family made a second trip from California to continue the dig. Those who participated included Neil’s wife, Mary Nell, their daughter Allison, and Neil and John’s brother, Pat.

Also assisting were cousins Allyson Arise of Sioux City, Iowa, and Amanda Zauner of Galesville, Wis. The girls had traveled to Currie for the annual Malone-athon, a gathering of the family’s children. Neil and Mary Nell timed their trip to Minnesota around the event.

It was almost exactly one year ago when the dig first began. What prompted the archaeological excursion? John had dug up the site to repair a broken tile line—a routine experience for the Currie farmer. While digging, he came across a wooden corner.

The corner was suspected to be one of two things: a grave belonging to victims of Slaughter Slough or a well often heard about in the family but never discovered. Bones found at the site last summer made the find even more intriguing. After further investigation, the family now believes the box is indeed the well John’s grandfather, Pat Malone, warned his children about because of its quicksand-like properties.

During last year’s dig, about 20 bones were unearthed from the site. The most interesting were later identified at the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History as those of an American Indian dog, between 150 and 500 years old. The same type of dog was discovered at the La Brea Tar Pit in Los Angeles, Calif. Other bones were identified as a cottontail rabbit.

Last week’s archaeological dig was even more fruitful. In all, around 200 bones were discovered.

“This is making us think this has been a place where animals have gone to die for a long time,” Neil said.

The first day of the dig was spent draining water out of the pit. When left to its own designs, the hole quickly fills with water. Neil then bought a screen. Mud was poured onto the screen, and even the tiniest of bones was able to be filtered out. Some of the bones appear to have belonged to a mouse, and others to a gopher.

It is suspected that additional bones from the American Indian dog were found as well, including the lower jawbones. This find was especially intriguing to the La Brea Tar Pit, because the lower jawbones of the dog found there have not been discovered.

As with the bones discovered last year, these bones will be taken to the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History for identification.

Neil said he was pleased with this year’s finds, and hopes to be able to continue the dig next year.


Walnut Grove hosting pageant weekend events

The community of Walnut Grove plans many special activities during its July pageant weekends.

Family events are scheduled at the Walnut Grove City Park on successive Saturdays July 8, 15, and 22 from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Entertainment, activities, and food will be available.

A Black Powder Shoot Rendezvous is planned Saturday and Sunday, July 8-9, located at the rodeo grounds southwest of Walnut Grove. Shooters dressed in period clothing will compete in contests and activities.

A “Laura-Nellie Look-Alike Contest” is planned at the Walnut Grove City Park Saturday, July 8. Registration begins at noon, with the competition set at 1 p.m. The contests are open to girls ages 8-12. Contestants are judged on overall appearance and knowledge of Laura Ingalls Wilder books.

Bus tours of historic sites in and around Walnut Grove are offered all three pageant weekends. The bus leaves from Walnut Grove City Park on Fridays.

Meals will be served Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays during the pageant at the Walnut Grove Community Center. Serving is from 4:30 to 7:30 p.m.

An ecumenical church service is planned Sunday, July 9 in the city park. The Laura Ingalls Wilder Museum is open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily.