MARILYN HAGERTY: Storytellers all set to bring history alive in Grand Forks CountyYou might say John Hanson has a split personality. One moment he is a community-minded citizen of Grand Forks. He is president of the Veterans of Foreign Wars and represents North Dakota VFW in Washington. He is part of the honor guard for countless veteran funerals.
By: Marilyn Hagerty, Grand Forks Herald
You might say John Hanson has a split personality.
One moment he is a community-minded citizen of Grand Forks. He is president of the Veterans of Foreign Wars and represents North Dakota VFW in Washington. He is part of the honor guard for countless veteran funerals.
He also is a historic figure. That’s when he takes on the role of Henry Wheeler, an early Grand Forks physician. He launches into the story of Dr. Wheeler and how he thwarted the Jesse James gang when they tried to rob the bank in his home town of Northfield, Minn.
He tells of the foiled robbery and the skeleton of Clel Miller that according to stories ended up in Grand Forks.
It’s a fascinating saga. Hanson goes through it wearing a white jacket and a stethoscope draped around his neck. He also tells the story of early medicine here.
Hanson is one of the many residents of Grand Forks who came here first with the Air Force. He retired a year ago from working for the Department of Defense at the base. He fills his spare time with community service. He and his wife, Mary Kay, have a son, John Jr., who is an electrician here. Their daughter, Mariah Kliner, is a nurse at the Altru Cancer Center.
Hanson is among the 12 storytellers for the Grand Forks County Historical Society. They are available to go into classrooms, service clubs and other venues around the county. They could be engaged as part of convention programs in Grand Forks.
The storytellers were organized by Don Lemon, president of the board for the Historical Society, and Leah Byzewski, the director. Along with telling their stories for group meetings, some of the storytellers may appear on the Sunday afternoon series of talks at the Myra Museum during the winter.
They are just getting started. June Randall discussed American Indian music and dancing recently for the 55 and older club at University Lutheran Church.
Retired District Judge Kirk Smith has taken on the role of the Hon. Ronald Davies. He is the judge from Grand Forks who went on to national prominence when he challenged the Little Rock Nine during the segregation crisis in 1957.
Other storytellers include Gary Malm, president of the Grand Forks County Commission, who appears as Steamboat Captain Alexander Griggs. As such, he is known as the father of Grand Forks.
JoAnne Yearwood portrays Ebony Magazine Editor Era Bell Thompson. Ruby Grove appears as M. Beatrice Johnstone, an early well known superintendent of Grand Forks County Schools.
Robert Kulack tells the story of Elroy Schroeder, long-time superintendent of Grand Forks schools. Dan Rice portrays Alexander Henry, a hunter, plainsman and trapper.
As a storyteller, Roger Melvold turns into UND President John C. West. Sonya Hathaway becomes Mathilda Engstad, wife of Dr. J.E. Engstad. She tells a story that varies from those usually heard about women of her era.
Greg Gagnon is available to talk to groups interested in American Indians. And Mike Meyer is preparing to portray the Grand Forks hockey legend, Cliff “Fido” Purpur in another year.
Hanson and the other storytellers are willing to make their way around the county. They can be reached at the Grand Forks Historical Society, (701) 775-2216. They volunteer their talks without fees. Some support for costumes and expenses of the program have come from local banks including U.S. Bank, Bremer, Gate City, Wells Fargo, First State and Alerus.
Reach Hagerty at email@example.com or (701) 772-1055.