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Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Britney Maddox interview
   Ronan High School

Britney learned quite a lot about her history and American and European history while writing this essay about her oma’s life during World War II. “When people think of Germany during World War II, they automatically think of Nazis,” Britney said. “They never think of the soldiers who were forced to serve for the sake of their families, of the families who tried to reach safety in West Berlin, of German women and children sent to concentration camps.”

She also learned that interviewing her grandmother and writing the essay provided a sort of closure for her oma. “[My grandfather] told me that oma needed to tell her story,” she said.

Britney is quite interested in world history and cultures. This past summer she traveled to Israel with a church mission. Britney was thoughtful when talking about her trip. “We have so much freedom here that we take for granted,” she said, unconsciously mimicking her oma who said the same thing when comparing America to Germany. In Britney’s case, she was referring to a different wall, a wall that’s being built by the Israelis around and through Jerusalem and Bethlehem. “In Bethlehem, you have to have a special pass to get from one side of the wall to the other. There are some people that have never left Bethlehem because they don’t have the pass. Many families are separated.” She shook her head. “Our pastor told us that the best thing we can do [about Israeli/Palestinian conflict] is to talk about it—to keep it in people’s minds.”

“I’ve never been involved in anything like the Heritage Project in school,” said Britney Maddox, senior at Ronan High School. “I got to work with an editor, and then I got to be an editor.” Her essay, “My Oma,” was selected as a state finalist, and she read it at the Youth Heritage Festival in Helena last April. After that, she worked with editor of Heritage Education magazine, Katherine Mitchell, to prepare the manuscript for publication. Then at the end of the year teacher Christa Umphrey selected her to edit a book of oral histories written by her classmates. This book was published by Trafford Publishing and is available locally as well as through Amazon. During the editing, she was unsatisfied with one of the histories. She thought the subject’s story was worth more work than the student who had written the interview had done, so Britney contacted the person and did a new interview and wrote a new essay.

What comes next? “I’d like to do more writing, but I’m so busy with college applications and other things,” she said. She’s also planning a mission for the Four Square Church to Costa Rica. She said she has permission from the school to go, but her schedule is tight nonetheless.

She said she wanted to research and write about her grandmother--"oma," in German--because she has experienced so much she deserves to have her story told. Her grandmother was conscripted into Hitler’s Youth Corp during World War II. “I wanted people to understand that not everyone in Germany under Hitler was a Nazi or agree with him,” she said.

Katherine Mitchell and Michael K. Umphrey completed an interview with Britney in St. Ignatius. It will be used in a DVD of exemplary research essays written by high schools students in the Heritage Project.

After she graduates, Britney plans to attend college. She’d like to be a writer. She’d also like to travel the world—perhaps as a missionary.

Posted by Michael L Umphrey on 11/16 at 09:46 PM
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© 2005 Montana Heritage Project

Sunday, September 25, 2005

Students read at Festival of the Book
   Montana Heritage Project

2005 Montana Festival of the Book
Saturday morning, September 24, 2005
The Next Generation of Montana Writers

Remarks by Christa Umphrey
formerly a high school English teacher in Ronan and currently a graduate student at the University of Montana

Good morning. I have the great privilege to tell you about the Montana Heritage Project and our relationship to the Montana Festival of the Book—and Montana literature and then to introduce you to three Montana scholars—our next generation of Montana writers.

The Montana Heritage Project is a program established by the Liz Claiborne and Art Ortenberg Foundation and administratively attached to the Montana Historical Society. It engages high school students and teachers in rural Montana schools in a study of place and community—their places and their communities--through primary source research, oral interviewing, a study of our region’s literature and the context it sets for us, and through field trips—trips to visit the places and people students study. The Montana Committee for the Humanities, the Library of Congress, the Office of Public Instruction, the Montana Historical Society, and many community organizations are our partners in this work.

Students in Libby, Ronan, Corvallis, Polson, Bigfork, Chester, Simms, Centerville, Great Falls, Townsend, Fairfield, Brady-Dutton, Whitefish, Gardiner, Roundup, Harlowton, and White Sulphur Springs have the opportunity to explore topics that were important to their communities historically or right now, to conduct research, to reflect on what they’ve learned, and to give back to their communities and the state gifts of scholarship.

Students prepare many different gifts: programs, books, research finding aids, museum tours, National Register nominations. And all those gifts require them to gather real knowledge and then to write clearly and succinctly about what they have learned. Hence, the Project emphasizes great writing and the clear thinking that great writing needs.

We believe that the depth of our emphasis on clear thinking and great writing is, in fact, producing Montana’s next generation of renowned writers—continuing Montana’s uncanny tradition of applying the written word with eloquence and honesty to an understanding and appreciation of this place.

Today it is my privilege to introduce three students whose writing from the 2004-2005 school year was judged—by their teachers, by Project staff, and by outside reviewers—among the best of many submissions. We all found that reading this work renewed and refreshed our belief in the great caliber of work that young people can do.

Claire Stanfill is currently a senior attending Bigfork High School. Upon graduation, Claire plans to attend Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah, where she will study physical therapy as well as dance. In Claire’s essay, “Their Legacy Living through Letters,” she analyzed and interpreted a collection of war letters written home from Vietnam by Marine Captain Robert (Bob) Reed to his wife Virginia (Ginny). In addition to reading this collection of over 200 letters and researching the Vietnam era, Claire also conducted extensive interviews with Mr. and Mrs. Reed, the writer and recipient of the letters. Her essay was scored highest statewide, in large part because of the skill and sensitivity with which she discussed the difficult issues raised by the letters and interviews.

Britney Maddox was born in Olympia, Washington on March 23, 1988.  She currently is attending Ronan High School and lives with her mom and brother in Pablo.  Britney hopes to pursue a career in writing and other fine arts. The piece Britney is sharing today-- “ My Oma’s Story” --was crafted from an oral history interview with her grandmother Else, her “Oma,” recounting the horrors of her childhood in Romania, Germany, and Poland during World War II.  The essay weaves a compelling tale drawn from family history into the larger canvas of the War in Europe.

Cassie Vandenbos was born in Polson, MT.  She has two brothers.  She moved to Fort Shaw, Montana when she was three and is currently a senior at Simms High School where she is a member of National Student Council.  Cassie has received all-state and all-conference awards in basketball, as well as being voted all-conference in volleyball. She also plays on the fast pitch softball team and enjoys competing on her horse in o-mok-sees. To write “Paving for Prosperity?” Cassie studied the ways improvements to Highway 200 impacted the Sun River Valley through the 20th century. Her essay poses fundamental questions about the losses and gains of economic development by analyzing the fate of individuals and businesses in the Sun River Valley.

Posted by Michael L Umphrey on 09/25 at 08:36 PM
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© 2005 Montana Heritage Project

Friday, March 25, 2005

Ronan students honor veterans, 1
   Ronan High School

On Wednesday, March 16, students in Christa Umphrey’s junior English class staged an assembly in the high school gym to honor the 28 veterans they had collected oral interviews from: Slim Arends, Charles Bick, William Birthmark, Chris Briske, Justin Borders, Corey Delong, Gary Gauthier, Larry Gauthier, Harlen Gerdes, Lloyd Jackson, Phillip Kuntz, Thomas Leafty, Devlin LaFrombois, Charles Lewis, Else Payne, Juan Pérez, Silas Pérez, Ronald Merwin, James Raymond, Kim Sprow, Harold Smith, Connie Starkel, Lee Starkel, Ken Stowbridge, Eldon Umphrey, Jeffery Wayman, William “Bill” Cheff, and Paula Anderson.

Ronan High School is set near the foot of the Mission Mountains in the center of the Flathead Indian Reservation. The school enrolls about 400 students. Christa has taught there five years.

The gym was packed with veterans, their families, high school students, and students from several elementary classes that attended. All were invited to sign the guest book for the event.

The welcoming table at the entrance to the gym was attractively dressed with mementos gathered from veterans.

The Ronan High School Choir sang several patriotic songs.

Posted by Michael L Umphrey on 03/25 at 02:26 PM
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© 2005 Montana Heritage Project

Ronan students honor veterans
   Ronan High School

The student presenters sat on the gym floor, facing the veterans who had reserved seats on the floor. The audience filled the bleachers.

Christa’s classes have already published two books of articles about veterans based on oral interviews. They were published by Trafford and are available on Amazon: We Remember: Oral Histories of Montana World War Two Veterans and Vietnam: A Community & Country Divided This year’s book will be called Through Our Soldiers’ Eyes and will be available by Veterans Day.

An interpreter for the deaf translated the remarks made by the presenters.

At the end of the presentation, a retired navy Lieutenant Commander was moved to make an unscheduled speech about the importance of this sort of work.

Posted by Michael L Umphrey on 03/25 at 02:18 PM
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© 2005 Montana Heritage Project
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