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Thursday, April 06, 2006

2006 Youth Heritage Festival
   Montana Heritage Project

The annual Youth Heritage Festival is Montana’s premiere academic conference for high school scholars. The high point of the event is the reading of research-based essays written by the students, along with multimedia presentations and displays of their work.

True Tests, keynote speech by Superintendent of Public Instruction Linda McCulloch (with additional photos of the event)

A Conversation about Community, welcoming remarks by Heritage Project Director Michael Umphrey

Students presented their research to the State of Montana to be archived at the Montana Historical Society.  Lauren Vogl, Broadwater High School (Townsend) senior, did an elegant job as Master of Ceremonies. Also present were, from left, Mark Baumler (Interim Director, Montana Historical Society), Guha Shankar (American Folklife Center, Library of Congress), Linda McCulloch (Montana Superintendent of Public Instruction), John Bohlinger (Montana Lieutenant Governor), Liz Claiborne, Art Ortenberg, and Jack Copps (Executive Director, Montana Quality Education Coalition).

A team of researchers from each school presented their work to an audience of about 120--including peers from around the state, teachers, community members, and representatives from cultural agencies. These students from Broadwater High School in Townsend, taught by English teacher Darlene Beck, were selected to serve as Project Ambassadors to the Library of Congress for 2006. They will travel to Washington, D.C. to present their work before Librarian of Congress James Billington on May 10. They were selected on the basis of the combined excellence of their research-based writing, live presentation, and visual display. Their research project examined the impact the forest fires of 2000 had on people in the area.

Bigfork High School students of teacher Mary Sullivan scored highest in writing, and Great Falls Central students taught by Sarah Zook scored highest for their live presentation. 

On Tuesday morning, eight students whose writing was recognized as “distinguished” by a panel of judges met for a special breakfast with Heritage Education magazine editor Katherine Mitchell to discuss the editorial process involved in publishing their work. Each will be paid $250 for publication rights to their work. Speakers at the breakfast included Martha Kohl, former editor of the Montana Historical Society Press, and Michael Umphrey, MHP director and author of two books of poetry.

The 2006 Distinguished Writers include:

Lindsey Appell “A Tribute to the ‘Doc’” (Roundup High School) Tom Thackeray, teacher

Kari Eisenzimer “Ruth Lundin Budd” (Simms High School) – Josh Clixby, Molly Pasma, Larry Singleton, teachers

Shannon Flynn “The Flynn family fights the fires of 2000” (Broadwater High School – Townsend) – Darlene Beck, teacher

Cassandra Galloway “Tell the story and shut up” (Bigfork High School) – Mary Sullivan, teacher

Jamie Halliday “Better than Nothin’” (Bigfork High School) Mary Sullivan, teacher

Kira Lee “What Can We Learn from the Vikings--in Libby, Montana” (Libby High School) – Jeff Gruber, teacher

Abbey Newell “Just a Priest?” (Roundup High School) Tom Thackeray, teacher

Hannah Pimley, Heather Pimley, Jenni Henke “How the growth of large cities has affected small town businesses” – collaborative project (Chester High School) Renee Rasmussen, teacher

Several members of the Flynn family attended the Youth Heritage Festival to hear Shannon Flynn read her first-place essay, “The Flynn Family Fights the Fires of 2000.” The essay used diaries, primary documents, and oral interviews to trace the intertwined experiences of five family members during the historic fire season. 

Students and teachers were enthralled by Hal Cannon, Director of the Western Folklife Center, Utah, filmmaker, musician, and regular contributor to National Public Radio. Hal showed recent videos created as a part of the Deep West Project. They featured stories and meditations in the form of video documentaries from the lives of rural families in the American West. The powerful material was enhanced by Hal’s engaging presence and by the venue--the historic barn at the Kleffner Ranch outside of Helena. It was a world-class evening.

Summary of 2006 Research Projects:

Broadwater High School:
Jeannette Ingold’s book on 1910 fires, The Big Burn, sparked the interest of Townsend’s Heritage Project students to study of the Broadwater County Fires of 2000. Students compared and contrasted fire impact, management strategies, public health and safety issues, forest restoration, and economic impacts as they evolved between 1910 and 2000. Local Forest Service personnel, law enforcement officials, and community members served as primary sources for student exploration. The students conducted additional primary source research at the Montana Historical Society, the Broadwater County Museum, and Forest Service offices. The students in Darlene Beck’s junior and senior English classes also interviewed Broadwater County veterans and family members and transcribed those oral history tapes and wrote related papers. The senior class hosted the 6th annual Veterans’ Recognition Program to honor local service men and women, continuing a Montana Heritage Project tradition.

At the beginning of this year, each of the 83 students in Mary Sullivan’s junior English classes at Bigfork High School interviewed a veteran from a twentieth century conflict or from Iraq. Students also examined the role of community women during wartime. On November 11, these students hosted their annual Veterans’ Assembly. It included a color guard, taps, and additional music. Students read the veterans’ own words as they had recorded them in oral histories and recognized Gold Star mothers with long stemmed roses. Later in the year, while studying the Depression in U.S. history and reading Karen Hesse’s Out of the Dust, students interviewed community members who remembered the 1930’s. These interviews were recorded on video and audio tape and transcribed. While listening to their elders grapple with the essential question, “What has changed, and what has stayed the same?” students learned about life in Montana during the Great Depression. To thank their mentors, students hosted a dessert party and read portions of the oral histories they had recorded. Students ended the evening by singing “Brother, Can you Spare A Dime.”

White Sulphur Springs:
Nancy Heggen’s junior class at White Sulphur Springs started their Montana Heritage Project work by hosting the school’s first Veteran’s Program. The class invited a Vietnam veteran to speak and honored that individual and four others during the afternoon community event. The class then began their broader research into community wedding traditions and the meaning of those traditions. The class cooked lunch for several couples from the Ringling and Martinsdale areas of Meagher County and conducted interviews with them.

At Corvallis High School, in Phil Leonardi’s geography classes, heritage education engaged students in documenting local history. Course activities and assignments helped Corvallis freshmens recognize, understand, and finally appreciate the ways in which their individual lives are shaped by our community. As they explored local history, culture, and folklore, students gained primary research skills and identified connections between their “place,” who they are, and ultimately who they may want to become. Students were also encouraged to draw upon their new understanding of their “place” and their heritage to explore similar themes in the lives of other community residents. Students presented through work to the community in a variety of written, oral, and multimedia formats..

The 1910s in the Upper Musselshell Valley were much like the 1910s elsewhere in the United States—full of technological and social change. Nancy Widdicombe’s senior English students at Harlowton High School chose to study that era in first half of their research this year. They concentrated on everyday life in Valley, investigating especially clothing, food, recreation, and education. Students examined historic newspapers, magazines, and archival documents to find evidence of everyday living patterns. The Upper Musselshell Historical Society staff invited students to create a 1910 documentary using the museum as its setting. During the second phase of project work, entitled “People of the Valley,” Harlowton seniors are interviewing cowboys and cowgirls, artists, area historians and local craftspeople. These interviews will be organized into a second documentary. The community will be able to enjoy both films at Harlowton’s Open House on Monday, May 15.

Great Falls Central:
At Great Falls Central High School, Sarah Zook’s 25 sophomore Computer Literacy students researched the history of Catholic education in Central Montana in order to better understanding their own educational heritage. Students conducted interviews with alumni, former teachers, local historians, and members of the religious community. They scoured primary documents and photographs in the area archives and compiled all the information into a web site. The web site is designed to be used by all researchers, including elementary students and teachers. The site tells the tales of many different schools, incorporating the fascinating stories that students encountered in their research. In December, students also presented the first portion of their research in a public community program. In May, students will present a play for the community, drawn from their year-long research efforts.

After reading Richard Waverly Poston’s Small Town Renaissance and researching the success that other towns had with Montana Study discussions, Roundup High School Heritage Project students and teachers decided to conduct a community study of their own. Students met with members of the community that they identified as leaders in six areas: government, business, agriculture, religion, education, and medicine. The forums lead to lively discussion about Roundup’s history, its current condition, and its future. As a final gift to the community, students hosted their own forum and gave a presentation summarizing their findings. Individual students from Tim Schaff’s and Tom Thackeray’s classes, with Dale Alger’s guidance, also pursued individual research projects. Among other topics, students examined the history of Central School and the Roundup Memorial Hospital and explored Roundup’s artistic and religious communities.

This year at Libby High School, Jeff Gruber’s Local Legacies class studied how logging has affected the landscape around the community of Libby. To start, the class read Jared Diamond’s book Collapse, which highlighted how advanced societies have declined or collapsed throughout history. Using Diamond’s five-point framework, students chose particular civilizations and compared their decline to America’s situation today. The Students guiding question was: what can we learn from the mistakes of the past so that America doesn’t meet the same fate? The class visited the site of a 1919 logging camp and examined the camp’s historical record. Students investigated how logging practices in 1919 affected the forest. They then observed modern logging practices and interviewed loggers and foresters to compare the effects of contemporary practices with those that occurred 85 years ago. The students wrote essays based on their findings and will host a heritage evening for the community in May.

The 2005-2006 Simms High School Heritage Project chose to research Fort Shaw’s military history, using the theme “Fort Shaw: Marching Through Time.” Students in classes taught by Josh Clixby, Jenny Roher, Molly Pasma, and Larry Singleton directed their study to three guiding questions: What can we learn from the lives of individuals who lived at the Fort and the issues that affected them; what are the popular beliefs or myths and underlying truths and contradictions related to the Fort; and what has changed and stayed the same at the Fort? In order to answer these questions, students explored the Baker Massacre site; invited local historians to come in and discuss Fort Shaw; and conducted primary source research in several archives—relying on assistance from mentors throughout. Student teams organized their research around three topical frames: the construction, creation and military regimen of the Fort; entertainment, medicine, and issues of race and culture at the Fort; and Sun River Valley families whose arrival dates to the Fort. On March 20, students presented their work to the community in their annual heritage fair.

Students in Renee Rasmussen’s junior English class in the newly consolidated Chester Joplin Inverness Public School became curators of Inverness Public School history this year. They undertook the mammoth task of cataloging Inverness school artifacts, including trophies, banners, and awards. They interviewed community members and former students. They invited Inverness alumni, teachers, parents, and community members to help retrieve—and save—three buried time capsules before the school grounds were sold. In a final community gathering, C-J-I students will present their research papers and video documentaries. They will even surprise a former Inverness High School student whose World War II service prevented him from graduating with true high school diploma.

Posted by David Hume on 04/06 at 04:18 PM
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© 2006 Montana Heritage Project

Saturday, March 25, 2006

1910 in the Upper Musselshell Valley
   Harlowton High School

It was real spring day, and a few residents of Harlo were out and about. Several conversations were held by people yelling at acquaintances on the other side of the street.

Nancy Widdicombe’s senior English class is participating in the 1910 Expedition, studying what life was like on the Upper Musselshell in 1910.

Students will illustrate the book they are writing about 1910 in Harlo with photographs of themselves in clothing from the period, made available by the Upper Musselshell Museum. Dwayne Mullens in the drivers seat.

Dwayne Mullens is the groom; Kayla Hagberg is the bride; Kayla Suckow is the photographer.

Kayla Suckow. Kayla’s sister Betsy provided the photography for the extensive study of neighboring Hutterite communities completed in Nancy’s classes a few years ago.

Posted by Michael L Umphrey on 03/25 at 11:02 PM
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© 2006 Montana Heritage Project

Stories of the Past: Keys to the Future (Corvallis)
   Corvallis High School

Phil Leonardi’s freshman geography class at Corvallis High School is a special place. Students have to apply to get in. In the application letter, they need to answer such questions as why they want in the class, how they fit into their family, and what they can contribute to the class. Since the class has been in operation for a number of years, at this point many of the students are younger siblings of former students. The class, which offers students the chance to explore their own family roots, has become a tradition for some families in the Bitterroot Valley.

“Heritage education is about more than documenting local history,” Phil said. “It’s about recognizing, understanding, and finally appreciating the way in which our individual lives are shaped by our communities. The premise is that by exploring local history, culture, and folklore, students will identify meaningful connections between their ‘place,’ who they are, and ultimately who they may want to become.”

Phil’s classroom is a heritage museum, with quilts and display boards created by previous classes lining the walls. His approach to geography is to help students locate themselves in the Bitterroot Valley and in their families through a series of activities built around the 5 Themes of Geography. Among the questions considered:

Who am I? Who are those who came before me?

How has the physical and cultural landscape been altered over time?

How will my life impact the future of my community? The state? The nation? The world?

Phil has students work together to create a “heritage quilt”, with each block containing an “iconic” image drawn from the Bitterroot Valley’s past. Each student selects and image from the extensive data base Phil has assembled of historic Corvallis photos and then does a writing assignment explaining why that image was chosen. When all the images are brought together, they form a mosaic of important aspects of the town’s past.

Kori DePauw sets the colors on her quilt block. The process of making a quilt block is quite simple. (1) A photograph is printed onto photo transfer paper, using a classroom printer. (2) The shirt press is used to transfer the image from the paper to a square of cotton muslim. Phil keeps a shirt press in the classroom, but the a normal clothing iron would work. (3) Each student then colorizes his or her image, using acrylic paint diluted with water. (4) After the painting, the block is again heated for a few minutes in the shirt press to set the color. (5) He then invites a local quilter to turn the individual pieces into a finished quilt.

After lunch, Jessica Gerig interviewed Jim Wood, an 83-year-old resident of the valley. He is the grandfather of Lindsy Wood, a class member who participated in the interview. Phil’s class interviews a few grandparents each year, adding to the extensive oral history collection that students have created over the years. 

Phil has students write a 700-1,000 word essay in class as their semester exam. The question is discussed in advance, and students are allowed to bring an outline they have created to the test. In addition to providing an assessment of the students, these essays provide him with the student perspective he needs to write his own year-end report to the Heritage Project about what was accomplished during the year and what it meant to students.

Phil has placed his curriculum on the web:

Posted by Michael L Umphrey on 03/25 at 09:35 PM
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© 2006 Montana Heritage Project

Friday, March 24, 2006

Then and Now
   Corvallis High School

After checking in at the office of Corvallis High School, Mike Umphrey and I were escorted by a student to Phil Leonardi’s classroom. It only took a moment of looking around the room to make me think that cloning Phil may be a good idea.

Phil has created a year-long heritage curriculum for his freshmen geography students. His students do a series of activities that, by the end of the year, fill their personal portfolios. They take a close look at their families and their community, all the while trying to figure out how they and everything else fits in the grand scheme of things.

Today, students were finishing the “Then and Now” unit. After talking about iconography, Phil asked each student to find a historical photo of a building, scene, or event that he or she thought was representative of Corvallis. Then he asked them to rephotograph the same building, scene, or event. In addition to the Then and Now photos, students had to write a brief narrative explaining the photos and the reason for choosing them.

Each year, Phil’s students incorporate their historical photos into a heritage quilt. When Mike and I walked into the classroom, we saw a nearly finished quilt block on each desk. During class, students painted a colored wash on their quilt blocks and Phil set the wash with a hot press. This student paints a photo of the Daly Mansion.

Over the last several years, Phil has become somewhat of an expert in patterns, color, and seam allowances. He’s pretty good with a hot press, too.

While looking at the photos the students had chosen, I noticed that nearly all of them were of mountains or buildings or had something to do with agriculture. Erin McConnaha’s (left) stood out. Her’s was a photo of couples dancing at a school dance. I asked her why she chose that photo. “People immediately think of the outdoors when they think of Montana,” she said, “but Montana is more than that. Montana is also about people getting together and having fun. Montana is about community.”

In the afternoon, six of the heritage geography students returned to Phil’s classroom, which he turned into a portrait studio, to interview Jim Wood, Sr. about some of his life experiences. Mr. Wood was interviewed by granddaughter Lindsy Wood and by Jesseca Gerig. The still photographers were Joe Stoker and Amy Warren. The audio of the interview was monitored by Kelsey Thompson, and the videographer was Courtney White. 

The students prepared for the interview by coming up with several good questions. During the interview, they must have paid close attention to Mr. Wood’s answers because they asked several relevant follow-up questions. But the interviewers weren’t the only ones paying close attention. All eyes were focused on Mr. Wood for the entire duration of the interview.

Lindsy and Jesseca enjoy Mr. Wood’s stories.

After many years of watching Heritage Project teachers, I’ve decided that America needs a lot more Phil Leonardis or Darlene Becks or Mary Sullivans or any other Project teacher. Our young people could do a lot worse than spend their time in organized classrooms being taught by prepared and engaged teachers who ask them to study their families and communities.

Posted by Katherine Mitchell on 03/24 at 05:35 PM
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© 2006 Montana Heritage Project

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Marching Through Time: Simms Heritage Fair
   Bigfork High School

Sphagetti Dinner for $5, as the nearest cafe to Simms is about 15 miles away.

Not just the older folks

pasma to crowd


Belinda Klick

Posted by Michael L Umphrey on 03/22 at 09:23 AM
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© 2006 Montana Heritage Project

Friday, March 17, 2006

The Fires of 2000
   Townsend (Broadwater High School)

The high school in Townsend seems an orderly place. The principal intercepted us in the main hall and introduced himself, clearly attentive to what was happening in the building. The school was very clean, and the walls in the hallway were being cleaned during class the morning we were there. The dress code is enforced, and in most classes there’s the quiet bustle of people working.

Darlene Beck’s senior English classes are researching the forest fires of 2000 which had a dramatic impact on much of western Montana, including Broadwater County. They are using both archival sources and oral interviews. In preparation for the unit, Darlene worked with the U.S. Forest Service to gather information about the fires and to compile a list of people willing to be interviewed.

Her classes began with clear and focused directions, quietly given.  Through the classes there was a steady expectation of getting a day’s work done each day. Her teaching was driven by lots of preparation, lots of organization and lots of personal attention.

Bulletin Board: Darlene’s bulletin board--or “Heritage Resource Board” as it’s known locally--is not just a classroom decoration. It’s more the sort of tool one might find at an incident command headquarters, or anywhere a lot of data is being organized and tracked. It features articles, maps, photographs, documents, lists of interview subjects, and other information useful to people trying to get acquainted with the big story or looking for avenues for further research. During her sixties expedition, the board included plastic sleeves containing Life magazines from the sixties.

A lot of advance work is done getting the information gathered and this makes it quite easy for a student to get oriented to the topic and to form research strategies. Andrew Sanderson, Casey Ludwig (Kneeling) and Ashley Young use the
Heritage Resource board

Independent Record: Jade O’Neill and Darlene examine “Fire Storm 2000” a special edition published by the Helena Independent Record. It featured extensive coverage of the fires. Darlene had acquired one copy of the newspaper, and, serendipitously, another teacher saw it and mentioned he had acquired a classroom set, which he loaned to her. 

Amber Thomas: More serendipity. Amber Thomas had an entire box of documents and clippings which her father had organized and saved for her at the time of the fire. Amber’s family lives high in the Elkhorn Mountains, and they were evacuated due to the Maudlow-Toston Fire, 11 miles easy of Townsend. They lived in a local motel for three weeks. The fire was started by a combine in a grain field on August 15, 2000, and it quickly traveled up Deep Creek Canyon, through open Ponderosa Pine and Doug Fir. Amber’s home was the primary source of water during the fight.

Alexandra Potter: Alexandra Potter reviews a copy of the Townsend Star as Geoffrey Ward looks on. The Broadwater County Museum has bound copies of the newspaper for the entire year which they allowed to be checked out to Darlene’s class. She’s worked with the local museum extensively through the years, and they are fans of the Heritage Project, which helps a lot.

Andrew Christianson: Darlene helps Andrew Christianson with photo editing of his veteran photos. Andrew’s parents drove him to Dillon to interview his grandfather for the veterans history project.

During class, Darlene moved from student to student, seeing each one. It seemed unlikely that anyone would come to class expecting to “get by” without being noticed if he or she were unprepared. One student said Darlene’s classes were easy, because she always helped. The help came in many ways: clear directions about the “next step”, which was of a manageble size; handouts for each step which gave directions and examples of what was expected; lots of small deadlines, to check progress on the parts of the project; ready availability of materials to use in the research; personal attention to help untangle knots and plan the next step.

Darlene circulated from student to student throughout the day: “What can I do for you, Nick?” “"Mrs. Beck, can you read this?” “Yes, I’d love to.” “I need to go to my locker.” “For?” “These look like good questions. So you’re going to check out a recorder on Thursday?” Her room is organized for work. On the front table are the daily handout sheets--such things as layout intructions for a report the juniors are working on and a green sheet giving clear directions for “What to do after the interview.” The table at the side of the room has such standard tools as stacks of permission forms and the tape recorder check-out log.

Rachelle Rauser and Marcella Sherfey view the Heritage board display in the library. For a few weeks each year, Darlene does an exhibit about the Project in the library. This year she’s put up all the display panels from previous years. Some of the serendipity enjoyed by the Project is probably encouraged by the “high profile” nature of Darlene’s projects. In addition to the temporary display, the library has a permanent display case dedicated to the Heritage Project. It features changing exhibits relating to project work (and directing citizens to research files created by students). The most common use of these files is by people seeking stories told by elders who have died.

Students look at projects done by classes in previous years before starting their own projects.

Here is the homepage for The Montana Heritage Project at Broadwater High School

Posted by Michael L Umphrey on 03/17 at 02:30 PM
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© 2006 Montana Heritage Project

Something old, something new: Martha Kohl in White Sulphur Springs
   White Sulphur Springs High School

Traditions are the “we always” of families, like “We always make snow ice cream at the first snowfall,” or “We always have games and popcorn on Saturday night,” according to family scholars Nick Stinnett and John DeFrain.

Traditions are more than routines, which are everyday activities that involve little emotion. They are regularly recurring activities that give those involved positive feelings. Sometimes they are handed down from generation to generation, but new ones can always be created.

Traditions help form connections between family members and between generations. By spending time together doing something fun or visiting a special setting, family members grow closer. Even simple traditions, like breaking a pinata on birthdays, can help foster a sense of identity and a feeling of belonging.

Traditions provide energy that can counter what family scholars call “entropy"--the tendency of systems to lose energy and fall apart.

Martha Kohl from the Montana Historical Society presented her research on wedding traditions in Montana and how they’ve changed through time to students in Nancy Heggen’s class at White Sulphur Springs. An article based on her research will appear in the forthcoming issue of Heritage Education magazine. Martha is currently working on a book, with support from the Montana Committee for the Humanities, on wedding traditions. In addition to research in documentary sources, she’s completed oral interviews around the state, including in communities with ongoing heritage projects.

Nancy has been working to help her students see the the importance of traditions to families. Family members today live in ways quite different from those of family members decades ago, and many traditions have been abandoned. Others, however, have come into existence.

Traditions can provide family members with predictable and familiar experiences, giving them something to look forward to as well as shared experiences to remember. To keep family bonds strong amid hectic modern lifestyles, today’s young people may need to make an intentional effort to preserve and create important family rituals and traditions in their families.

See the Library of Congress Learning Page for a unit on Exploring Cultural Rituals, including wedding rituals.

Posted by Michael L Umphrey on 03/17 at 05:17 AM
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© 2006 Montana Heritage Project

Friday, February 17, 2006

Rebecca Buffington
   Bigfork High School

“I loved doing this project,” said Bigfork’s Rebecca Buffington. “It was much more interesting and fun than the 20-page research paper on global warming that I just finished for another class.”

When Rebecca’s teacher, Mary Sullivan, assigned the class a research project, Rebecca was pretty sure she knew what she wanted to focus on. Her mother’s family possessed letters that her grandparents wrote to each other during World War II. The problem was getting those letters.

The letters are precious family heirlooms. They’re kept in a safety deposit box in Seattle where Rebecca’s aunt lives. When Rebecca’s mother called her sister to see about using the letters for a research project, she “didn’t want to give them up,” Rebecca said. “She didn’t entirely trust me with the letters. My mom talked her into it by telling her that this wasn’t some Mickey Mouse project, that this was real research. My aunt sent us copies of the letters.”

“The letters were wonderful,” Rebecca said. “I never met my grandfather, and now I feel like I know him a little. I knew my grandmother—she died a few years ago—but I obviously didn’t know her as a young woman in love. The letters gave a whole new dimension to the grandma I grew up with.”

“What I liked about these letters is that they were personal love letters instead of letters about battles. I found out that war is not just about the fighting. There’s a personal level, too. War is also about people and relationships.”

Rebecca wrote her essay with classmate Brooke Andrus. “I couldn’t have done this project without Brooke. She writes faster than I do so she took a lot of notes. We went through all of the letters to figure out the focus of our paper, and then we had to do quite a lot of research about what was going on in the world at that time. Most of that research didn’t make it into our paper but believe me, we did it.”

Rebecca learned something about letters during her project. “Families really appreciate having them, and they also add to the historical record. You can add a personal aspect or insight to big, or not so big, events. I’d encourage people to write and save letters.” And Rebecca practices what she preaches. She still has the notes she passed to her friends in seventh grade.

Rebecca’s and Brooke’s essay: Love Letters from War

Posted by Katherine Mitchell on 02/17 at 12:05 PM
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© 2006 Montana Heritage Project

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Veteran Jami Hamel Interviewed by Polson High School Students

Jami Hamel shared her time and stories with Aneena Antiste and Cami Kenmille (left to right), in Pablo at The Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribal Headquarters where Jami works. 

Jami was on active duty during the Gulf War, but did not go overseas because she had a new baby at the time.

Cami listens asJami relates her experiences as a Native American woman in the military.

Aneena Laughed at the stories that Jami had to tell of all the different people she met and the questions they asked her. For Instance, (Do you have running water?) or, (Do you live in a teepees?).

Posted by Michael K. Umphrey on 02/16 at 09:13 AM
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© 2006 Montana Heritage Project

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Local Veteran Tom Houle, Interviewed by Polson Students

Polson High School students (from left to right Amber Mergenthaler, Katie McDonald, and Ashlee Steiner) Interviewed Gulf War veteran Thomas Houle about his experiences in the military, while on active duty.

Houle described the different things he witnessed and told how his life and views were changed.

Houle brought pictures to share with the girls, furthering their perspectives of what life was like during his service in the middle east, including the vehicles he drove, the places he slept, and how his recreation time was spent.

Everyone seemed pleased with the interview as they parted with handshakes.

Posted by Michael K. Umphrey on 02/09 at 11:55 AM
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© 2006 Montana Heritage Project

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Claire Stanfill
   Bigfork High School

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.

Claire’s essay: Their Legacy Living Through Letters

Posted by Katherine Mitchell on 02/08 at 01:14 PM
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© 2006 Montana Heritage Project

Cassandra VandenBos
   Simms High School

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.

Cassie’s essay: Paving for Prosperity?

Posted by Katherine Mitchell on 02/08 at 12:47 PM
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© 2006 Montana Heritage Project

Chennell Brewer
   White Sulphur Springs High School

When White Sulphur Springs teacher Nancy Heggen was going through the records from the Poor Farm, she found three unusual entries. She asked one of her students, high school rodeo champion Chennell Brewer, if she’d like to research them. Chennell was immediately interested. “Most of the people that died at the Poor Farm died of disease or old age,” she said, “Those three entries were much more violent than the others. And the dates they were admitted were the same. We knew something interesting had happened. Interested? You could say I was interested.”

Chennell began her research odyssey as a junior. She completed her journey near the end of her senior year.

At the beginning of her project, Chennell had very little to go on. She had names, dates of admission, and dates of discharge—or in the case of one of the men—date of death. She was looking for what happened to cause one of the men to be admitted for club wounds and the other two to be admitted for gunshots. She spent her junior year researching every resource available to her, only to end up empty handed. “Curiosity turned into stubbornness and stubbornness into determination,” she said. “I kept saying ‘Why can’t I find anything!’ I stayed with the project because I wasn’t going to let it beat me.”

Well, the project did beat her—at least during her junior year.

In the fall of her senior year, Chennell and the rest of her classmates traveled to Helena to research a completely different topic at the Montana Historical Society. While going through old newspapers, someone found a mention of the three men and their by now familiar wounds and brought it to Chennell’s attention. “It was sheer random chance,” Chennell said. “I knew those names and I knew those injuries. I was so excited.!”

“After that, my research project got a lot easier. It was still research, so it was hard work, but I finally solved that mystery.”

When Chennell was asked why she kept with the project for a year and a half, she said, “I was so interested in it, and being interested kept me motivated. And you can’t imagine the excitement I felt when I read those names in that newspaper.”

Chennell embarked on another adventure last fall, this time as a Montana State University freshmen. When not busy attending class or studying, she competes on the university rodeo team in goat tying and breakaway roping. It takes a certain kind of person to rodeo—someone who is determined and stubborn and who can accept defeat. But there’s something else—a need to go the distance.

Chennell could have been talking about rodeoing when she talked about what she wanted others to get out of her research project: “You shouldn’t just throw in the towel. Stick with it. The results are definitely worth the pain.”

Chennell’s essay: Solved! The Mystery of the Men at the Poor Farm

Posted by Katherine Mitchell on 02/08 at 11:12 AM
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© 2006 Montana Heritage Project

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Mark Gibbons works with student poets in Simms
   Simms High School

Mark Gibbons did a “poet in the schools” presentation, focusing on the ways poets create portraits of people--quoting what they say, describing them, showing them in action. The poems he handed out formed a delightful “mini-anthology” of writing about family members--fathers, aunts, grandparents, grandchildren.

“If you’ve got something burning inside you, that’s what you should write about,” he said.

Student Justin Harvey brought the binder full of poems he has written over the years, excited for the chance to work with a notable poet such as Mark.

Mark is slated to give a reading to Heritage Project teachers at the summer conference in Butte on June 20.

Larry Singleton in a new English teacher in Simms this year. He’s an experienced teacher, bringing of wealth of knowledge to Simms. He’s working with the rest of the team--Josh Clixby, Molly Pasma, and Jenny Rohrer--to get students ready for the annual Heritage Fair, that is scheduled for March 13. This year’s topic is Fort Shaw. Four students traveled to the Montana Historical Society archives with Larry on January 23, where Marcella Sherfy helped them with research in original sources.

Amy Bosnar was particularly excited. Her research subject is General DeTrobriand, and she photocopied dozens of pages from his diary, which she is eager to read.

While in Sun River country, we taped an interview with English teacher Dottie Susag, who initiated the Heritage Project at Simms High School and retired last year. For years, she drove to work from her home on the Fairfield Bench to the school near the Sun River. This view, where the Simms-Fairfield Road drops off the bench into the Sun River Valley, is her favorite. “The world seems so young,” she said.

I asked Dottie whether she missed teaching. “I don’t miss leaving home early in the morning and I don’t miss carrying papers with me and working on them everywhere I went,” she said. “But I really miss the kids.”

Posted by Michael L Umphrey on 01/25 at 03:43 PM
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© 2006 Montana Heritage Project

Monday, January 09, 2006

2006 Winter Summit Conference, Helena
   Montana Heritage Project

Several attendees wrote in their evaluations that this year’s Winter Summit Conference was the best ever.

A favorite tradition is the Monday night dinner at the Montana Club downtown in Last Chance Gulch. This year,
Chuck Johnson, chief of the Lee Newspapers State Bureau in Helena, spoke after dinner about his experiences covering the deregulation of Montana Power. Before deregulation, Montana had the fifth or sixth lowest consumer rates for electricity in the nation. Montana Power owned its own hydroelectric dams and was Montana’s only Fortune 500 Company. That changed with the passage of the Electrical Industry Restructuring & Consumer Choice Act in 1997. Today Montana has the highest electrical rates in the Northwest, buying its power on the open market.

Chuck focused on the challenges of reporting the story--untangling the complex flood of information involving Montana Power lobbyists, Goldman Sachs, hype about free markets and the rising telecommunications industry, and the newspapers’ attempts to figure out the story and make it intelligible to ordinary Montanans. “It was like trying to drink from a firehose,” he noted. The Q&A session after the presentation was animated. “I could ask him questions for hours,” said Jeff Gruber. Chuck donated his honorarium to the Montana Heritage Project scholarship fund for high school writers.

Jodie Foley and Karen Bjork provided teachers with the Montana Historical Society finding aid for scholarly materials gathered and created by high school students in the Heritage Project going back to 1995. This is now online through the Society’s website. It allows researchers to locate oral history tapes and previous Project research materials. Karen and Jodie reminded teachers that oral history tapes--no matter how useful--can’t be made available to the public without interview release forms completed and submitted with the tape.

Staff reminded teachers of the importance of turning in student release forms for all students participating in the Project.

We’ve created a new site containing all the site histories going back to 1995. To see the advantages of this site over the old one on edheritage, spend a bit of time clicking on the navigation links on the right. This site isn’t finished yet--we don’t have 2004 or 2005 online. But you still should find this helpful. The final reports you do at the end of the year will be the basis of keeping this updated in the future.

Jack Copps, Executive Director of the Quality Education Coalition and former Deputy Superintendent of Public Instruction, joined our team as a representative from the Liz Claiborne and Art Ortenberg Foundation. We look foward to drawing on his experience and expertise in shaping the Heritage Project’s future.

Teachers and staff had the opportunity review upcoming deadlines and dates including the March 1 registration dates for the Youth Heritage Festival (April 3-4, 2006).  We also discussed how student writing, student presentations, and display boards/portfolios will be assessed during the Festival. Rubrics and assessment forms, including materials you can review with students ahead of time, are available online.

Librarian Carmen Harbach from Gardiner and history teacher Jeff Gruber from Libby.

Affiliate teacher Hali Kirby Ertel from Gardiner takes advantage of the time to do research in the Montana Historical Society to support her local project. Other affiliates who attended included Kari Patterson from Fairfield, Becky Duty from Brady, Joyce Damm from Centerville. Gwen Couture from Polson was not present, but she will be at the Youth Heritage Festival.

This year many librarians also attended, including Sue Lorang (Centerville), Vicki Manger (White Sulphur Springs), Angela Giono (Townsend), Dan Kohnstamm (Whitefish), Carmen Harbach (Gardiner), Dale Alger (Roundup), Gloria Behem (Chester-Joplin-Inverness), and Mary Jane Johnson (Simms).

Posted by Michael L Umphrey on 01/09 at 12:27 AM
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© 2006 Montana Heritage Project

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

A Timely Presentation on the History of Catholic Education in Central Montana
   Great Falls Central Catholic High School

Sarah Zook’s Heritage Project class members had already planned to research the history of Catholic education in central Montana before they realized how vital their work might be to community decisions. As Sarah noted, “Some of my students saw Central Catholic High School’s history as just five years old when it reorganized back into existence. But it goes back more than five decades. I wanted them to understand the role of Catholic education’s history in the state and acquire a connection to and an honest understanding of the school’s past.”

When the Great Falls Central board began negotiating with the Great Falls Public School Board to acquire Paris Gibson Middle School--once the home of Central Catholic High--Sarah and her students realized that their research might be invaluable to a community considering the issues. So, rather than wait to organize a single concluding heritage event next spring, the first semester Heritage Project class--half of the sophomores--stepped up to present the research and analysis they had done to date. 

On Thursday evening, December 8, 2006, at the Great Falls Ursuline Centre--itself one of the schools and buildings that students had begun to study--class members presented information on topics ranging from St. Peter’s Mission to sports and dress at Great Falls Central High during the 20th century.  Here, Alyssa Amato describes her initial research about the Ursuline Centre as Sarah oversees the computer.

With help from Project mentor Dorothea Susag, Mrs. Zook guided students through primary source document research, oral histories, and analysis of a wide range of materials, including a 1954 Life Magazine article that featured Great Falls’ Catholic schools. For many students, this was the first time they had presented scholarly information to their peers, parents, and community members. Stephanie Harris, pictured here, and her classmates, did so with great poise.

As did other class members, Zander Robison used a straightforward PowerPoint program to illustrate his research as he presented a narrative of his findings. Students had worked to connect each section to the next. Students concluded by sharing their own reflections--based on the new perspectives they had forged--about what constitutes the true identity of a school and a school community.

Teacher Mary Gayle Russ, Sarah, and the students then hosted a concluding reception that gave community members an opportunity to ask questions, study story boards, read over some of the materials that students had examined--such as historic yearbooks--and volunteer to be interviewed or provide additional material to next semester’s class members.  Alyssa Amto and Rebecca Laubach greeted people at their “station,” as other classmates did at theirs. 

Sarah and her class provided the Great Falls Tribune with feature story material about their heritage evening. As Tribune staff writer Keila Szpaller observed in her December 8, 2005, article, “The students don’t shy away from talking about a government policy that led mission schools to deny Native children their traditional culture. ‘Today, the Catholic Church is working very hard to counteract their early actions made toward the Native Americans,’ class member Sarah Hood will say in ther talk.”

Sarah observed that students learned serious lessons from funny stories that they heard in their interviews with community members who had attended boarding schools. Their research brought them unexpected information, e.g. knowledge of an orphanage school in Great Falls largely forgotten now. And it brought them different understandings. Sarah Hood realized that, “No matter how big our building is, a school community is in our hearts.”

Posted by Marcella Sherfy on 12/14 at 03:36 PM
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© 2005 Montana Heritage Project

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Neah Parshall
   Montana Heritage Project

When teacher Dottie Susag asked Neah Parshall (rugby player and shopper—who admitted to owning 25 purses) what topic she was going to research for the Heritage Project, Neah answered without making eye contact: “tractors.”

This didn’t satisfy Dottie, because the class research project was on the history of transportation in the Sun River Valley, and it wasn’t clear how “tractors” fit. For her part, Neah was wondering whether she even wanted to finish high school, let alone get involved in a complicated research project for a very demanding teacher.

The Saturday that she walked a part of the Old North Trail with Métis elder Al Wiseman was much colder than she had anticipated, so she borrowed an oversized coat from her teacher’s husband and spent two hours trying to keep up, adjusting the coat sleeves so she could manage her tape recorder and write in her notebook. But by the time the project was over, Neah had not only done a quality project, she had been selected on the basis of her research and writing as one of four student ambassadors from Montana to the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C. This year, Neah is enrolled in Advanced Placement English and is making plans for college.

Posted by Michael L Umphrey on 12/13 at 05:49 PM
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© 2005 Montana Heritage Project

Sunday, December 11, 2005

Rachel Reckin
   Libby High School

Rachel got involved in the Montana Heritage Project through teacher Jeff Gruber’s independent study class. “Mr. Gruber came into our class and talked about the Heritage Project, and it sounded like it would be fun. I love music, and I knew I wanted to do something on the history of music in Libby.”

Rachel is a musician. She played oboe in the high school band and with the Chamber Players, a local musical group that included her mother, who plays flute. Rachel was selected for the all-state orchestra as well as for honors band in Washington.

She’s also an athlete, who has participated in basketball, volleyball, and track. “I did three sports my frehsman year, two my sophomore year, and one my junior year,” she said. She played no sports her senior year, but this wasn’t due to lack of interest. She just wanted more time for music. “People say they’re bored and there’s nothing to do in Libby,” she said. “I can’t even live life I’m so busy.”

Both of Rachel’s parents are teachers. The family spends lots of time kayaking and camping, and they regularly go to church together. She’s attending the University of Puget Sound in Tacoma after graduation, partly because she received a scholarship and partly because her sister attends college in Seattle. When choosing a college, Rachel thought that would be nice to be close to her sister. This also makes it easier for their parents to visit them both.

Rachel is grateful for the gifts that Libby has given her, and she has given Libby back quite a remarkable gift of her own--hopeful stories skillfully told from the town’s own past.

Rachel’s essay: Songs of Hope

Posted by Michael L Umphrey on 12/11 at 10:40 PM
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© 2005 Montana Heritage Project

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Capturing Time (Capsules) at Inverness School
   Chester High School

At the suggestion of community members, this year’s Chester-Joplin-Inverness junior heritage class has been examining, cataloging, and preserving the physical history of the now closed Inverness school building. It is part of our larger 2005-2006 heritage project effort to preserve as many memories and mementoes as we can of the schools that consolidated this year into Chester-Joplin-Inverness and to understand and honor the combined histories.

In mid-November, an Inverness parent told the heritage students that the Inverness school grounds were home to three unretrieved time capsules.  With less than three weeks until the building sold and with cold weather just around the corner, the students quickly planned a small ceremony to retrieve the capsules and mark the building’s closing chapter as a school.

Six students, four of whom had attended the Inverness School, chose “Capturing Time” as a theme for the event, researched the capsules, called people who knew about them, and planned a small ceremony.  Students scheduled the event for the morning of the building’s sale: Saturday, December 3, 2005

As the day approached and temperatures dropped, the committee opted to prepare printed programs rather than ask community members to endure long speeches.  The students’ program contained lists of the capsules’ contents; it identified those who “planted” the capsules; and it provided a short history of the school along with suggestions for creating a time capsule. Project Teacher Renee Rasmussen

Teacher Comments
As December 3rd approached, we decided that a “pre-dig” might be advantageous. Project Teacher Renee Rasmussen

Student Comments
Monday, November 28:  Called Craig Fraser, set up digging times and discussed marking capsules.
Friday, December 2:  Borrowed tools from school, found 2 of the 3 (1980 and 1982) capsules and uncovered them.
Tools:  7 shovels, 4 tamping bars, 2 Pick axes, and 1 Ditch Witch.
People Involved:  Spencer Fisher, Roger Rasmussen, Renee Rasmussen, Kirk Skari, Derek Fraser, Mikinzie Fraser, Craig Fraser, Dale Pimley, Heather Pimley, Chase Pimley, Hannah Pimley, Matt Wicks
Saturday, December 3: Used ditch witch (courtesy of Dale Pimley) to uncover the third capsule (1989 Centennial). Let classmates from Inverness and Joplin-Inverness Schools lift the capsules from their protective casing.  Project Student Spencer Fisher

The capsules were in remarkably good shape.  Each item had been wrapped in plastic, then all items were wrapped in plastic as a group, placed in a galvanized container, and then that container was wrapped in plastic.  The whole unit was then placed in a large square, red chimney tile sealed on both ends with a small concrete slab.  Project Teacher Renee Rasmussen

When I first heard that we were going to have a ceremony while digging up the time capsules, I though it was kind of stupid and I didn’t think anybody at all would be interested in it.  I just went along with the idea.  The more we got into details, the more excited I became and I started thinking that maybe people would actually show up. Then, we started getting interviewed by newspapers and that helped to spread the word.  Pretty soon, people from everywhere said they had seen the article in the paper and they started asking me questions and became interested in what we were doing and said they would try to make it to the ceremony. Project Student Hannah Pimley

Inverness school still stands a block from the highway.  Next to the school are three holes.  The snow-covered ground is darkened with dirt that once buried three time capsules.  People are wrapped in coats, scarves, hats, and mittens.  As classmates stand by their buried memories, time capsules surface.  I feel my hands and nose go numb as I see my breath in front of my face.  Smiles light up classmates’ faces as they open the untouched past. Project Student Chelsea Stokes

The roads from Chester to Inverness were fairly good for how cold it was that morning.  When we arrived at the school I was surprised to see many cars parked along the streets next to the school.  Bundled up in three layers of clothes, I sat outside with about 50 other bystanders awaiting the time capsules’ rebirth.  Hannah Pimley started the ceremony with a long list of thank yous.  Then the fun started.  Since the ground was already dug up, it was easy for two members of the Inverness school to lift out the 1980 time capsule.  Soon after came 1982 which was taken out by taken out by folks who had attended the Inverness School. The 1989 capsule was retrieved by everyone who had attended the Joplin-Inverness Elementary.  The 82 and 89 capsules remained closed.  Afterwards, we gathered in the school to take pictures.  The 1980 time capsule was opened and many Inverness alumni were lost in the memories of the school’s past.  Leisa and I realized our opportunity and video interviewed many members. Project Student Brittany Kolstad

After retrieving the capsules, everyone rushed to the gym to thaw out. Project Student Matt Wicks

There people visited, reiminisced, and remastered the ascent to the ceiling via the old climbing rope. Renee Rasmussen

Personal Reactions
The day was a fitting end to this place as a school. Inverness community members had a chance to gather, mourn, and say goodbye. Many thanked students and personnel from the new C-J-I school for understanding their loss and taking time to care about the artifacts left. That was important to them.  Renee Rasmussen

When the morning was over, Brittney Kolstad, Candice Osterman, and I videotaped the empty corridors at Inverness School and its doors closing for the last time. We’ll end our documentary about the school with these shots. Project Student Leisa Kolstad

The entire project acted as a good note to end on for the Inverness High School and Joplin-Inverness Elementary. Project Student and former Inverness student Heather Pimley

I’m really happy that we uncovered the capsules--otherwise they probably would have been underground forever or lost or ruined. Project Student and former Inverness student Hannah Pimley

When everything was said and done, Spencer Fisher and I filled up the empty holes in the frigid cold. Retrieving the past was a good experience to share. Project Student Derek Fraser

Posted by Marcella Sherfy on 12/07 at 11:30 AM
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© 2005 Montana Heritage Project

Monday, November 21, 2005

Broadwater High School Students Honor Local Veterans
   Townsend (Broadwater High School)

Montana Heritage Project students at Broadwater High School hosted the 6th annual recognition program on Sunday, November 20, 2005.  Students opted to delay the traditional veterans recognition program inorder to welcome home eight members of the Montana National Guard 1-163 Infantry Battalion who returned to Townsend within the past week.  Shown registering for the program are Sgt. Robert Hankins and his wife, Kelsey(Nugent).  Both are BHS graduates and former MHP participants.

“Broadwater County has a long tradition of serving its country,” said Shannon Flynn, as she welcomed approximately 130 honored veterans and guests to the Community Room.  Following the presentation of the colors, the Pledge of Allegiance, and the Star Spangled Banner, the students presented a slideshow honoring the members of the 1-163rd using the soldiers’ photos from Iraq.  Lane Gobbs, Lauren Vogl and Nathan Cox presented speeches of gratitude to all veterans before recognition was given to the 71 active military service men and women who are currently serving from Broadwater County.  Jessica Thompson recognized and expressed appreciation to 23 local veterans who also attended the ceremony. 

Caitlin Field and Nate Cox performed a violin duet of America the Beautiful prior to Kami Motta’s reading of It’s Who You Are.

Brittany Urich and Grace West performed a pinning ceremony to honor local veterans and express an appreciation from BHS students.  Pictured with his wife and family is Major Kelly Morris a member of the 1-163rd who returned home the day before the ceremony.  Kelly earned the Bronze Star while serving in Iraq. 

Following the ceremony, the students enjoyed interacting with the veterans and other guests.  Students took the opportunity to make personal contacts to pursue oral interviews and collect local stories.  “I think the program went very well,” said Jessica Thompson.  “It feels good to do something for the community and for those who have served us. 

Posted by Darlene on 11/21 at 03:31 PM
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© 2005 Montana Heritage Project

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

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

True Intellectual Curiosity Took Root Today
   Harlowton High School

On Monday, November 14, Nancy Widdicombe and her 14 English IV/Montana Heritage Project students braved 130 miles of icy roads to begin their year’s research efforts in the Montana Historical Society’s collections.  This year, the class is exploring what life was like in the Upper Musselshell around 1910–a pivotal point in time for that valley. In particular, these young people will compare and contrast cooking, clothing, social activities, sports, and other entertainment of today with that of almost a hundred years ago.

Nancy had used a part of her Summer Fellowship preparatory time and money to work with the Society’s collections and get a sense herself of the kind of archival, text, newspaper, and photographic resources that might capture students’ attention–that might draw them into the adventure of research and analysis. Her two July days at the Society convinced her that students would find the Society’s rich array of relevant historic documents and materials fascinating and compelling.

To prepare for the students’ arrival, Society staff members Rich Aarstad, Brian Shovers, Karen Bjork, Jeff Malcomson, Jodie Foley, Lory Morrow, Becca Kohl, and George Oberst had pulled library, archival, and museum materials and created “stations” for students to move among.

Staff encouraged students to use archival documents and showed them how to handle these fragile resources carefully.  Krya Hagberg found business and family names that she recognized. Ideas in other documents prompted students, like Dwayne Mullens, to leave Marcella and the library staff with new research leads to track.

Every student had the opportunity to scan one of Montana’s “big city” newspapers for years between 1909 and 1911. As did her colleagues, Kendall Theriault looked for advertisements, sports stories, restaurant menus, and social columns that could give her a better sense of social life in 1910. Nancy’s students will read their hometown weekly newspapers at their local library.

Here, Tyrel Berg, on the left, and Brandon Sheets are studying historic cookbooks. Students quickly observed the absence of recipes for dishes that they like best now: pizza, lasagna, tacos. They also noted that in 1910 cooks had to know the chemistry of cooking far more than today’s chefs--recipes didn’t provide as much specific guidance then as they do now.

Using a “how to analyze an historic photograph worksheet” from the Project’s web page with much assistance for Photo Archivist Becca Kohl, students study and understand historic photographs. In fact, Bethelle Dick’s efforts may help the Society better identify Harlowton images.

During a very short lunch break, students also explored the Society’s exhibit galleries as part of a 1910 scavenger hunt. Education and Museum staff members Deb Mitchell, Kirby Lambert, and George Oberst helped Nancy and Marcella insure that the exercise stretched from finding “things” to understanding.  For instance, each student team wrestled with the question of why Charles M. Russell was painting scenes of bison on an open range around 1910 even as the state’s economy boomed with copper mining and smelting and three transcontinental rail lines bisected the state.

As Crystal Crouse and Carlee Church boarded the bus to head home on slightly better roads, Nancy said, “You wouldn’t believe what happened here today. I saw true intellectual curiosity in play throughout these hours.”

Posted by Marcella Sherfy on 11/15 at 10:30 AM
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© 2005 Montana Heritage Project

Monday, November 14, 2005

Roundup’s Montana Study
   Roundup High School

Roundup sophomore Lindsey Appell reported on the seven community forums that students hosted from mid-September to the beginning of November. The forums were loosely based on the 1940s Montana Study in which community members met regularly over a period of a few months to discuss their town’s past, present, and future.

Posted by Katherine Mitchell on 11/14 at 01:03 PM
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© 2005 Montana Heritage Project

Saturday, November 12, 2005

Bigfork students honor veterans
   Bigfork High School

Bigfork High School students (Class of 2007) led by English teacher Mary Sullivan staged a Veterans Recognition Assembly on Friday, November 11, 2005 (Veterans Day). Students from the middle school and elementary school joined community members in the gymnasium, which was filled.

The program was introduced by Superintendent Russell Kinzer, and it included the posting of the colors by the Swan Valley Youth Academy and music by the Select Women’s Ensemble, directed by Michael Perez. Cameron Clayton and Britanny Brook played taps on their bugles. The powerpoints were created by Carly Hilley, Owen Roberts, and John White.

The program also featured Aftan Snyder as Master of Ceremonies and oral histories read by Cameron Clayton, Cassie Keller, Cassandra Galloway, John Butts, Stephani Shanahan, and Salena Jordan. (Oral histories of Eric Chester Isaacson, Eugene Lee, Rick Scott, Chaplain Donald Shea, Jason Varner, and Mary Amanda Hein Guffin). 

Korean War veteran Eugene Lee and his wife of 55 years approach the sign in table where students have a guest book. They were engaged a few days before he was drafted and married a few days before he left for war. Their son is on her left. Student greeters met veterans at the door and escorted them to their seats at the front of the auditorium.

Kara Levengood from KCFW television in Kalispel taped the program. Here she interviews Rick Scott, Vietnam War veteran. 

John Butts reads the Oral History of Chaplain Major General Donald Shea. The poppies students are wearing were passed out before the Assembly by members of the VFW.

Veterans from the Lake View Care Center were brought to the high school so they could enjoy the program.

Ashley Oppel recites the poem, “Gold Star Mother” by Jim Soular, following the presentation of roses to a Gold Star Mother.

Communities, like other forms of human relationship, take their character from the things people remember and the things they promise. In remembering and promising, people link the past and the future to the present. Ceremonies and rituals are important ways young people are brought into a culture’s sense of memory and aspiration.

Further thoughts.

Posted by Michael L Umphrey on 11/12 at 10:40 PM
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© 2005 Montana Heritage Project

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Townsend Students Research Montana Historical Societ
   Townsend (Broadwater High School)

Students from Darlene Beck’s classes at Broadwater County High School in Townsend receive research assistance from Rich Aarstaad and Marcella Sherfy at the Montana Historical Society Library in Helena.

“I was amazed to find so much information-real, authentic, historical doumentation--at my fingertips.  The people of Montana are so very lucky to have such a valuable resource with so many helpful and knowledgable personnel available."--Caitlin Field

“The amount of information was overwhelming.  It was especially enjoyable to view the old diaries from the early 1900s.  I would love to return again.--Lauren Vogl

“It was a great experience to visit the Montana Historical Society and tour the archives.  I am excited to hopefully return someday of my own accord.” --Melanie Kimpton

“A lot of people don’t realize the incredible resource we have in the Montana Historical Society.  There is a wealth of information available on nearly any topic imaginable.  Through my experience ther, I realized what a dream the Montana Historical Society is for the Montana researcher or just someone with an interest in history.”—Shannon Flynn

Posted by Darlene on 11/08 at 01:50 PM
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© 2005 Montana Heritage Project

Sunday, October 30, 2005

Roundup students host sixth community forum
   Roundup High School

Minutes of entire forum series

On October 24, 2005, Roundup students hosted their sixth community forum in the meeting room of the Musselshell Valley Historical Museum. The forums are loosely based on the 1940s Montana Study. This forum focused on medicine and the medical community. Panelists included Marge Jorgenson, a retired nurse who has worked in Roundup for fifty years and who now works part-time in home health; Karen Erdie, director of the Area Council on Aging; Teresa Wagner, an LPN and owner of a home healthcare business; Ken Kellum, owner of Medical Imaging Connections; Trish Christensen, a hospital board member; Ann Wiggs, an x-ray technician with both the hospital and with Medical Imaging Connections; and Sharon Tate, an RN who works at the hospital. Sophomore Abby Newell moderated the discussion.

Abby asked the panelists several questions that students had prepared in advance, ranging from why they chose to practice in Roundup to the healthcare situation and future of Roundup.

The panelists were unanimous in why they chose to practice where they did: they like Roundup. Even though, as Ken said, “It’s not the choicest of locations to practice,” and even though Sharon took a 50% pay cut to move to Roundup, the benefits are worth it. The panelists all said, in one form or another, that it’s worth the price they’ve paid to be able to raise their children in Roundup. The younger panelists like knowing where their children are and what they are doing. They also said that young people in Roundup seem to have a great work ethic. All of the panelists agreed that the schools are very good.

The panelists displayed a little less exuberance when discussing the future of healthcare in Roundup. Nationwide, rural medical practitioners and facilities are struggling to stay in business. It is cost prohibitive to offer many services in rural areas —services such as obstetrics or general surgery—so many patients have to travel to larger cities to get the healthcare they need. Once they begin seeing a doctor in a larger city, they tend to stick with that doctor. Ken and Trish both said that only about 35–40% of people in the Roundup area seek medical attention locally.

In addition, many small facilities can’t afford to pay their providers the market rate for wages, so providers go to where the money is; to larger, more urban areas.

When Abby asked about what the panelists saw for the future of Roundup, they mostly agreed that the area needs more businesses and industry so their young people will stay. Ken took that a step further when he said, “We need young peoples’ minds.” Our rural areas need the ingenuity, creativity, and energy of our younger citizens.

There were twenty-eight students at the forum, all of whom took several pages of notes. They paid close attention and several asked cogent follow-up questions—especially when the topic of Medicare and Medicaid reimbursements was brought up. A few students had other tasks: senior Matt Miller was the assigned videographer, junior Virginia Merfeld photographed the participants and guests, and sophomore Lindsey Appell took notes for the article she would write reporting on the forum.

All 100 or so students who are participating in the Heritage Project in Roundup will go over their notes from this and previous forums to come up with themes and possible solutions to the various issues their town faces. They will consolidate the information and report their findings back to the community at a final event scheduled for November 7 at the Community Library at 7:00 p.m.

Roundup school/community librarian Dale Alger opened the forum with a brief explanation of the Montana Study.

Panalists included Marge Jorgenson, a retired nurse; Karen Erdie, director of the Area Council on Aging; Teresa Wagner, an LPN and owner of a home healthcare business; Ken Kellum, owner of Medical Imaging Connections; Trish Christensen, a hospital board member; and Ann Wiggs, an x-ray technician with both the hospital and with Medical Imaging Connections.

Junior Virginia Merfeld photographed the forum while senior Matt Miller ran the video camera. Teacher Tim Schaff kept an eye on everything. 

Posted by Katherine Mitchell on 10/30 at 12:12 PM
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© 2005 Montana Heritage Project

Friday, October 28, 2005

1910 in the Upper Musselshell--Investigating Harlowton’s Historic Architecture
   Harlowton High School

Students in Nancy E. Widdicombe’s English IV/Montana Heritage Project class began examining life in the Upper Musselshell in 1910 by taking three investigative trips to Harlowton’s Central Avenue--the town’s main street. Although founded earlier, Harlowton took “concrete” shape between 1907, when much of the original business district burned, and 1915, when it became the county seat of newly formed Wheatland County. In the intervening years, Harlowton realigned its downtown to serve the newly arrived transcontinental Milwaukee Railroad line as the jumping off point for the Milwaukee’s unique electrically-powered section.

Crystal Crouse (looking up) and Kyra Hagberg examine the style, materials, form, and function Harlowton’s main street buildings. To begin analyzing the rapidly changing and optimistic world of 1910, Harlowton students focused on what they could learn from the design and construction of Harlowton’s historic commercial buildings. Nancy invited former State Historic Preservation Officer (and current MHP Education Director) Marcella Sherfy to teach students how historic buildings reveal information about the era in which they were built and what the builders’ preferences and intentions were.  Photo by Kayla Suckhow.

Tiffany Galahan and Jennie Connolly pore over a scavenger hunt booklet created by fellow student Kayla Suckow. The scavenger hunt was designed to help them zoom in close on architextural details on Central Avenue. Kayla Suckow is also this year’s official Heritage Project photographer. Photo by Kayla Suckhow.

Much to their own surprise, these Harlowton young people found that intense research--here in the form of careful investigative field work--changes perceptions and yields useful information. Brandon Sheets, Tyrel Berg, and Jason Carlson (identified left to right) scrutinize building blocks, learning to see the different forms used throughout Harlowton. Some buildings use real native stone, some use concrete shaped to look like stone, and some use tin manufactured to mimic stone. These specific building materials were used by 1910 builders to craft Harlowton’s distinctive appearance. Photo by Kayla Suckhow.

As the year unfolds, Nancy’s scholars will analyze how residents of the Upper Musselshell in 1910 dressed, entertained themselves, cooked, and socialized. Students will investigate why so many customs, mores, and patterns were changing rapidly at that time and compare life then with the life they know today. 

Posted by Marcella Sherfy on 10/28 at 10:06 AM
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© 2005 Montana Heritage Project

Saturday, October 22, 2005

MHP presents 8 workshops at MEA-AFT Conference
   Montana Heritage Project

Montana Heritage Project teachers and staff advocated using Montana and regional literature in the classroom in a series of 8 workshops [PDF] at the MEA-AFT conference in Missoula October 20. The sessions were well-attended--several of the rooms were at capacity and latecomers could not get in.

We had 88 people sign up to receive our video on doing oral history in the classroom and to receive updates on the Place-Based Learning Conference in Butte June 20-21. The 10th Anniversary Issue of Heritage Education was also popular and the copies we took disappeared quickly.  Teachers took copies of our poster announcing the Place-Based Learning Conference for Sentinel High School, Big Sky High School, CM Russell High School, and Bozeman High School.

Many thanks to Jeff Gruber (Libby), Nancy Widdicombe (Harlowton), Dottie Susag (Simms), Marcella Sherfy (Helena), Jodie Foley (Helena), Christa Umphrey (St. Ignatius), Mary Sullivan (Bigfork), and Renee Rasmussen (Chester) for the time and energy they put into creating this engaging and useful series of workshops.

The MHP booth in the Exhibitors Hall was a popular gathering place. Many teachers signed up to receive a copy of our video guide to doing oral history and to receive updates on planning for the summer conference in Butte this June. Teachers Amy Sangwin, Renee Rasmussen, and Jeff Gruber take a break from the day’s activities.

Nancy Widdicombe did two workshops to capacity crowds--one on teaching Out of the Dust and one on teaching students to see the layers of time present in every community. Was the heavy attendence due to picking topics that teachers wanted to hear about, or due to all the posters advertising the sessions that staff placed throughout Sentinel High School, or due to Nancy’s fame as past president of MATELA and MHS Teacher of the Year?

Renee Rasmussen’s presentation stressed the linkage between Heritage Project writing assignments and Montana’s language arts standards.

We should begin planning next year’s event, since the deadline for workshop proposals is in the spring. This year’s workshops were keyed to the theme of our next summer conference ("exploring where we are through literature and writing"). It would be great to have the events build on each other in that way. It might be good to emphasize the “community as classroom” theme, with a set of workshops detailing how to get students engaged “thinking critically about their community.” Or “A Hunger for Reality: Writing About Family and Place.”

Posted by Michael L Umphrey on 10/22 at 11:00 AM
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© 2005 Montana Heritage Project

Friday, October 14, 2005

Camp 07 Poster
   Libby High School

Michael K. Umphrey videotapes Cassie Roberts, part of the research team doing a site survey at Logging Camp 07, operated by the J. Neils Logging Company of Libby in 1919.


Click image for 650 pixel version.

Posted by Michael L Umphrey on 10/14 at 09:20 AM
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© 2005 Montana Heritage Project

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Enchantment at Camp 7
   Libby High School

Freedom, reason, and enchantment*: an education lacking any one of these will leave learners unfulfilled. The Local Legacies class is an elective, which helps with the freedom. It’s based on field and archival research, so its focus is upon applied reason. And traveling into the forests of northwest Montana at first light on a quest for answers from a logging camp that had been abandoned eighty-four years ago--well, it has its enchantments.

During the six months of its operation, the camp housed 90 young, single men. The camp was established just after a wobblie strike in 1917, so they were paid good wages: $1 a day. They spent the day cutting trees with crosscut saws, skidding the logs with horses, hooking them to cables to be pulled up the hill by steam donkeys to log yards for loading on trains. Old photos of the men show they were mostly thin and wiry, though other records show they ate about 5,000 calories a day. The work was grueling, and no one got fat.

An effort worthy of the day: On October 11, 2005 students in Jeff Gruber’s Local Legacies class traveled in the school van to the north slope of McMillan Draw about 8 miles southeast of Libby. Their goal was to begin documentation of Logging Camp 07, abandoned by the J. Neils Lumber Company in 1919. The assignment given by teacher Jeff Gruber was “to show the world what we can learn from a 1919 logging camp.” It led to a day of hard fun.


Led by U.S.F.S. archaeologist Mark White, the research team followed an abandoned railroad grade uphill to the location of the camp. From left, Mark White (hard hat), Hunter Gragert, Charlie May, Chris Haywood, Phil England, Kylie Schauss, and Kira Lee. The area around Libby has about 200 miles of old logging railroad grades--more than any other location in Montana. Mark White has already done extensive work at the site.


Retired forester Russ Hudson helps with the Local Legacies class whenever asked. He has been studying and working in the forests around Libby for 50 years. Using maps dating back to 1904, he described the forest as it would have appeared in 1919--the mix of species and the size of trees. “It’s a pleasure to work with top students,” he said.


Videographer Michael K. Umphrey documents the process of doing an archaeological survey of a historic site for a video teaching the various ways of studying historic sites. Cassie Roberts stands on the southwest corner of what was once the mess hall while a team member measures distances to objects that are still visible on the surface.


U.S.F.S. archaeologist Mark White had located extensive company correspondence and newspaper articles relating to the logging camp when it was in operation. Here he takes a compass reading while Cassie Roberts records the the data. With guidance from Mark, students took measurements of visible features and recorded precise locations of artifacts for a site map they will make to accompany their archival researches. Students also used sketches and photographs to record what they found.

Mark White hopes research at the site will lead to a historic trail with signage so that others can get a glimpse of what once was. He’s enchanted by the idea of bringing back to mind a loud and robust world high in the forest overlooking McMillan Creek that has now fallen silent, its fragments rusting amid pine needles and creeping kinnickinik, so a wanderer could pass by without knowing it had ever existed. “If no one studies this history, it will vanish,” he said.


*Enchantment is a common state among children, who know the world is strange with wonders that may surprise them at any moment. Children are mostly future, and they always want to run. They do not imagine they have seen it all or that it is even conceivable to see it all.

That’s one of the ways children are often better then their elders, who are prone to disenchantment, a sad habit of mind akin to pessimism, falsely thinking it is the world that has become stale and unprofitable. In truth, the oldest and wisest of us have seen only a negligible portion of what is here. It’s true that if we don’t vary our routes or our thoughts, we risk being less and less often surprised. We get stuck in the present, unable to imagine, much less author, the future. It’s a way of losing sight of where we are by forgetting hope.

One way toward re-enchantment, I find, is to spend time with young people, to visit nature with them, and to share with them what once moved us and, in the sharing, moves us again. This might be echoes of our own youthful sense that there is more here than we see, that we heard in music, literature, or science. We might be surprised by memory of some sublime future still ringing true.

Posted by Michael L Umphrey on 10/13 at 09:19 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

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Students Learn Research and Writing Skills
   Bigfork High School


“Never Underestimate the Past” was the message that Marcella Sherfey shared with Broadwater High School junior and senior heritage students.  To help launch this year’s heritage project, Marcella instructed students in historiography, a study of how to study the past.  Students eagerly listened as Marcella shared personal and real life vignettes that illustrated her six main premises of studying history: context, complexity, central issues, details, distance and detachment. 

Dave Walter shared his writing and researching expertise with Montana Heritage Project students as he presented his “Montana Council of Defense” presentation and his story on “Impeaching Judge Crum”.  Students actively questioned Dave about his reasearching, writing and editing techniques in his Jerks in Montana books. 

Posted by Darlene on 09/22 at 01:17 PM
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© 2005 Montana Heritage Project

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

High School Scholar partipates in Libby Community Heritage Program
   Libby High School

“Okay, six o’dark then,” she said. We were trying to arrange a breakfast meeting with Rachel at the Venture Cafe in Libby to discuss editing and publishing the history article she had written about music during the Great Depression. We had learned she needed to be at work by 7:30 a.m. Though we were leery to suggest an even earlier meeting, her cheerful answer gave us a clue as to how she’s managed to get such an impressive research and writing project finished even though it wasn’t even an assignment for a “real” class. She was not a shirker.

Rachel Reckin had signed up for an independent study class with history teacher Jeff Gruber. Students in the “class” didn’t meet regularly. Instead, they pursued research projects that they chose themselves. The school agreed to provide credit when the work was successfully completed, but beyond that they were largely on their own.

By the time I got to the cafe--6:28 a.m.--she and Heritage Education editor Katherine Mitchell had already agreed on the minor changes we would make before the article was published. We’d heard her read the paper to a near capacity crowd at the 206 seat Performing Arts Center the night before. Other papers were read by Montana Historical Society historian Rich Aarstad and history teacher Jeff Gruber at Libby’s first Community Heritage Program. The turnout bolstered Jeff’s and Rich’s hopes that this might be an annual event.


Rachel Reckin reads “Songs of Hope: Music in Libby, Montana, during the Great Depression” to a community audience of about 150 People at the Libby Performing Arts Center on June 6, 2005. Rachel was a senior in Jeff Gruber’s group of independent scholars who pursued research projects into their community’s history during the school year. Her paper wove together the stories of George Neils, who bought a piano for his family and an organ for the St. John Lutheran Church; renowned composer Carl Eppert who moved to Libby to write a symphony titled Timber; and the Turner Mountain Negro CCC camp where a quartet of young men from urban parts of the company earned local acclaim for the jazz they brought to the Northwest. She researched the paper at the local library and the Heritage Museum archives. She also used oral interviews with local community members.

Rachel’s paper was also selected as a finalist among papers submitted from Heritage Project sites across the state as part of the Montana Heritage Project. She read the paper at the Project’s Youth Heritage Festival in Helena in April. It will be published in an upcoming issue of Heritage Education.

The essay wove together three strands of history. George Neils, a member of the family that owned Neils Lumber, Co., which was the engine of Libby’s economy, spent $2500 to buy a piano in spite of his father’s reluctance and the hard economic times. Later, he also purchased an organ for the St. John Lutheran Church. The family’s willingness to act on the side of hope in the hard times turned out to be critical for Libby’s survival. The family reduced hours but would not lay off the workers at their mill--the only one to continue operation through the Depression. It was only one of many ways they demonstrated that a business could pay attention to more than profit. They felt an obligation to the community. Also during the Depression world-renowned composer Carl Eppert came to Libby and stayed through the summer, working on his symphony Timber. Perhaps strangest of all, young African American men at the Turner Mountain Negro Civilian Conservation Corps put together a quartet and performed urban jazz for an appreciative local audience. In all three stories, Rachel saw the indominantable hope of the human spirit, exemplified by music, shining through troubled times. It’s a spirit she sees alive there today.

I was curious how she had come to do the project. “Mr. Gruber came into our class and talked about the Heritage Project, and it just sounded like it would be fun. I love music, and I knew I wanted to something on the history of music in Libby.”

Rachel is a musician. She played oboe in the high school band and with the Chamber Players, a local musical group that included her mother, who plays flute. Rachel was selected for the all state orchestra, as well as for honor bands in Washington. She’s also an athlete, who has participated in basketball, volleyball, and track. “I did three sports my freshman year, two my sophomore year, and one my junior year,” she said. She did no sports her senior year, but this wasn’t due to lack of interest. She just wanted more time for music.

The cafe was warm and noisy, but the sky outside was still somewhat dark. “People say they’re bored and there’s nothing to do in Libby,” she said, laughing. “I can’t even live life, I’m so busy.”

At one point in her paper, Rachel quoted from letters between George Neils and his father, who was in Minnesota. “Where did you find the materials for your research?” I asked. “Where did you start?”

“I just started looking through materials at the library. I just started collecting stuff. I have tons of stuff. When I started I thought, music in Libby won’t be that huge a topic. Then I started looking. Oh my gosh. Those ladies at the library were so nice to me. I’d come in and they’d have piles of stuff waiting for me” from the vertical files.

“I just read microfilm for a long time, not really knowing what to do. Then I started talking to people. [Forest Service historian] Mark White goes to my church. He started giving me ideas. He would call me in the evenings and talk for hours. My Mom helped.”

She took audio tapes of oral interviews from the library home and listened to them while cleaning her room. “I would spend hours looking at old newspapers on microfilm and not find anything, then five mintues later I’d find something that was just awesome.”

Both of Rachel’s parents are teachers. She praised their willingness to drive her all over the state for her music. The family has also spent as much time as possible kayaking and camping, and they regularly go to the Lutheran church together. Rachel chose the University of Puget Sound partly because her sister also goes to school in Washington, so she’ll be able to see her often, and their parents will be able to see both of them. “Seattle’s not a bad drive.”

Katherine and I asked several more questions about her high school experience. She was valedictorian of her graduating class and will go to the University of Puget Sound in Tacoma next year. Did she like Libby High School? “It was great,” she said. But three of her favorite teachers were retiring. “For freshman next year, it will be a whole different experience.” The new teachers will probably be okay, she said, but she loved the older teachers. “They had thirty years of experience. They really knew what they were doing.”

Rachel is grateful for the gifts that Libby has given her, and she has given Libby back quite a remarkable gift of her own--hopeful stories skillfully told from the town’s own past.

The other papers that were read at the Community Heritage Project were excellent. Rich Aarstad read “Their minds were poisoned,” the story of the 1917 Industrial Workers of the World timber strike that began in Libby and spread down river to Libby. River drives from the Eureka Lumber Company struck for better wages, cleaner camps, and the eight-hour day. The strke spread until it encompassed the entire Pacific Northwest.

Jeff Gruber read “Log-gone it, Libby!” In this work, Jeff organized his considerable knowledge of his hometown’s history. From its beginnings in 1906 until the 2003 closure by the Stimson Lumber Company of the local plywood mill, Libby was among the leading wood products towns in the United States. Jeff explored how Libby went from having the most integrated timber processing mill in the United States to having virtually no timber industry at all.  The story Jeff tells is not about villains. Economic trends, world markets, and bad luck all contribute. Still, it’s a sad story of human ingenuity, hard work, vision, and endurance.

Rich and Jeff had prepared their articles for the Montana Historical Society Conference in Whitefish, where they read them at a session that also included Oregon State University history professor William Robbins.

Posted by Michael L Umphrey on 06/07 at 07:10 PM
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© 2005 Montana Heritage Project

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Life on the River
   Harlowton High School

The downpour that drenched Harlowton an hour before the English IV’s 2005 Montana Heritage Project Open House seemd to be part of program. Recent rains provided students with an unanticipated ending to their “Life on the River: Stories from the Upper Musselshell Valley” research and analysis. “Drought” wasn’t the watchword for the evening, as community visitors dodged puddles to reach the program. Instead, people talked about how good thunder sounded.

Project teacher Nancy Widdicombe moved Harlowton’s fifth annual heritage open house to the school gym this year. It provided ample space for students to demonstrate square dancing--once a familar form of recreation in the Valley. 

Cheyenne Rodgers, sporting a square dance dress loaned by Sarah Dodge’s family, welcomed the crowd of 160 folks. In addition to writing newspaper announcements, Harlowton students send invitations to everyone who has helped their Project throughout its multiple year history--and to people who’ve signed the guest book at earlier open houses.

Following the square dance demonstration, Mrs. Widdicombe described how this year’s work built on research and interviews from the past four years. Student then presented a PowerPoint show that summarized the projects they had researched within this year’s theme Life on the River. Each member of the class provided spoken narration when the PowerPoint illustrated their own work.

The culinary arts at Harlo again baked and decorated theme cakes. Nancy whipped up punch. The crowd not only welcomed refreshments. The post-show hour has become valued community fellowship time, offering students, parents, and grandparents the opportunity to catch up on news and thank each other for help related to the Project.

Families and individuals who were interviewed could study exhibits from all previous years--along with the two created by the class this year.

(The class’s remarkable artist, Brittany Lind, painted backdrops for both story boards.)

Students also displayed early Sanborn Fire Insurance Company maps (a crowd favorite--as visitors look for their own homes and businesses), historic square dance cards and costumes, maps of water sources, and, here, film footage of Harlowton’s 1927 May Day celebration. 

Nancy may move next year’s open house back to the cozier Harlowton Youth Center--even though it’s bound to be still more crowded. But setting will never matter half as much as what the Open House represents: difficult analytical and field work accomplished; old community connections honored and reestablished; new community connections forged and recognized; contemporary topics studied in the context of comparable historic issues; the products of student thinking, writing, and creating given to the Valley for its future use.

Posted by Marcella Sherfy on 05/18 at 12:16 PM
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© 2005 Montana Heritage Project

Monday, May 16, 2005

Harlo students document branding at Jones Ranch
   Harlowton High School

May 10, 2005 - Branding at Bob Jones Ranch

Waiting to get started, Montana Heritage Project students from Nancy Widdicombe’s junior English class wait at the barn of the Two Dot Land and Livestock Company on the Robert O. and Diane Jones Ranch. The expedition is part of the “Life on the Upper Musselshell” documentary project the students are working on, which will culminate in a book and a public open house.

Not one to hang back, Nancy gets a bit “hands on” herself. She insists the calf was smaller than normal and suggests that it may have been tranquilized. Cattle expert Tim Schaff says the smaller ones have slicker hair and can be quite hard to handle.

Alli Jones, who will do the write-up on the Jones Ranch, wrestles the first calf of the day. All subsequent calves were done inside the barn.

Though it was a rainy day with quite a stiff wind, the work went ahead. Bob Jones speculated that it rained because he had the branding scheduled, and he didn’t dare postpone it because, in the midst of a seven-year-drought, rain is more important than comfort.

For Bob Jones, the main work of the day is to get the cows vaccinated and wormed and the calves branded. For the students, the main work is to capture good images and gather the information they need for their book. A nice merging of old and new traditions. Whether it’s working cattle or doing investigations, we are richer when we have things that keep us working in the landscape.

Amanda Miller with the Camera, Cheyenne Rodgers in orange standing on the fence nearest the camera, Johnny
Cooney standing in the mud getting ready to deworm the cattle.

Melana Todd and Cavan Cooney spend a quiet moment in the barn.

Posted by Michael L Umphrey on 05/16 at 01:05 PM
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© 2005 Montana Heritage Project

2005 Ambassadors to Library of Congress
   Simms High School

Jessica Eastley, Heidi Tynes, Crystal Tetzel, and Neah Parshall were selected as student ambassadors from the Montana Heritage Project to the Library of Congress for the 2004-05 school year. They were accompanied on their expedition to Washington, D.C. by teachers Dorothea ("Dottie") Susag, Josh Clixby, and Jenny Rohrer.

They presented a report on the Simms High School year-long research project to Librarian of Congress James Billington in his office overlooking the U.S. Capitol. The research project examined transportation from many angles, including ancient trails, historical trails such as the Mullan Road, and the impacts on people in the valley of changes in highways, bridges and railroads.

Teacher Jenny Rohrer views the main reading room in the Jefferson Building from a balcony. Students were given a tour of this historic building along with “insiders” views of maps and prints, the American Folklife Center collections, and the manuscripts collection.

Crystal Tetzel examines a survey of his farm created by George Washington. It was one of the rare “treasures” director of the maps division, Jim Flatness, brought out of the vault to show the students. Since these students had done extensive work with maps of the Sun River Valley as part of their research project, they were already familiar with many of the Montana maps Jim Flatness had pulled for them to examine. In fact, many of the Library of Congress maps of Montana are now available on the internet, and students had used them in their research.

Students (with the guidance of mentor Chuck Merja) had used maps and satellite images to create a 3-dimensional “flyover” of the valley, which allows a user to move over a realistic representation of the landscape using a computer mouse.

Heidi Tynes and Crystal Tetzel change from “stylish” to “sensible” shoes Librarian James Billington’s office. Since the latter part of the day included extensive walking, they brought a change of shoes in their backpacks. After tourning the Library, they walked to Senator Burns’ office where staff provided a personal tour of the U.S. Capitol, which students reached by riding an underground rail system that connects the Senate office buildings with the capitol. Given the long lines and extensive security, going through a senator’s office may be the simplest way to get inside the capitol building.

Posted by Michael L Umphrey on 05/16 at 12:00 PM
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© 2005 Montana Heritage Project

2005 Ambassadors, Part 2
   Simms High School

Jessica Eastley views the acres of graves at Arlington National Cemetery. Students visited Arlington House (General Lee’s family plantation, Kennedy’s grave, and the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. They also visited the new Native American Museum, the Holocaust Museum, the National Air and Space Admininstration Museum, the Museum of Natural History, the Spy Museum, and the National Gallery of Art.

Neah Parshall takes notes as Jim Hughes provides a tour of the Grand Hall of the Jefferson Building of the Library of Congress.

Heidi Tynes and Neah Parshall take notes.  Students will file reports on the trip based on their journals. Also, the students met with teachers and staff each evening to discuss the days events and their meanings as part of the reflective process.

After the first couple days, students used the subway routinely to get around. Becoming familiar with navigating in an urban environment is often an important part of the trip for kids from rural spaces. It isn’t hard and they take to it readily.

Jessica, Crystal, and Heidi on their way to a performance of The Tempest at the Shakespeare Theater. They also attended the Big River, a musical based on Huckleberry Finn, at the Ford Theater.

Six days in Washington, D.C. goes by quickly, given how much there is to do and see. Students from the Heritage Project, selected for their interest in cultural matters, are fun to take learning expeditions with. This group proved no exception.

Posted by Michael L Umphrey on 05/16 at 11:35 AM
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© 2005 Montana Heritage Project

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

Great Falls Central’s Heritage Evening
   Affiliate Site


Left,Alyssa Morren talks about her interview with James Fullerton, a WWII officer who was captured by the Germans, held in Stalag III, and escaped through tunnels the prisoners dug.

Sarah Zook and her eighteen sophomores hosted Great Falls Central Catholic High School’s First Annual Heritage Evening on May 3, 2005. The evening was to present the research students did on and with selected veterans and to thank the veterans for participating in their project.

The evening began with a spaghetti dinner that students had prepared. They were gracious hosts, whether they were sitting and visiting with their veterans or circulating around the room making sure everyone had coffee or got enough to eat.

After dinner, the Great Falls Central Girls Choir sang the “Star Spangled Banner” and the “Battle Hymn of the Republic.” I sat next to WWII Navy veteran William Thompson who enjoyed the choir’s singing but grumbled that they only sang two verses of the “Battle Hymn of the Republic.” Sarah assured him that they’d sing the entire song next year.

Then students presented very brief highlights from their eleven interviews with veterans from World War II and the Korean and Vietnam Wars. Listeners heard stories about captured officers, dog trainers, and a particularly unusual story about seal skins in a footlocker. The students did a good job of choosing interesting stories to share.

The evening ended with students presenting their veteran with a DVD of their interview.

Great Falls Central will be a demonstration site next year. I’m glad because Sarah does good things and I love that drive.

Posted by Katherine Mitchell on 05/04 at 01:10 PM
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© 2005 Montana Heritage Project

Friday, April 15, 2005

Managing the River and its Watershed
   Harlowton High School

This year, Nancy Widdicombe’s 21 senior English students are working to understand how “the River"--meaning the Musselshell River-- shapes the lives of people in their Valley and how the people of the Valley shape the health and well-being of the River.

On Tuesday, April 12, 2005, the class took their inquiries--and their cameras, tape recorders, sketch tablets, and questions--out into the field with U. S. Forest Service and Montana Fish, Wildlife, and Park personnel to expand and illustrate their perceptions and knowledge.

On Monday, the day before the field trip, Forest Service employees Dave Wanderaas, Steve Martin, Lary Dobb, and Wayne Butts had met with students in class--to explain what students might analyze in the field. In fact, between February 1st and this field trip, Forest Service staff had been in Ms. Widdicombe’s class half-a-dozen times and provided background reading, lectures, and individual interviews. So when the group arrived at Spring Creek (a Musselshell River tributary), orientation to the day and its issues didn’t take long. 

All students were responsible for asking questions that would help complete their research assignments. In addition, students recorded what they learned in a variety of formats from still photography to video tape to sketches. Here, student artist Brittany Lind sketches the Spring Creek bank restoration project. Students learned how and why the Forest Service had chosen to stabilize the bank on a newly formed Spring Creek meander. 

Almost all of the public employees who worked with Nancy’s class during the field trip had other happy connections to the Project.  Here, Katie Butts’ father, Wayne, describes a project at Cooks’ Flat (in the Spring Creek drainage area) that he supervised to reseed an overused range area. Cheyenne Rodgers recorded his explanation of how this single area had been so overgrazed that native grasses wouldn’t regrow, how a 1960s reseeding how introduced grasses that had become nuisance species themselves, and how he and the Forest Service leasee are trying to remedy the situation now.

Still further up the Spring Creek drainage, Steve Martin used an expansive vista to show students how fire suppression over the last century contributed to the loss mature trees and of high meadows as smaller tree species edged into them.

After a sumptious lunch, the field trip moved right down to the Musselshell River on Russ and Kathy Berg’s ranch to meet a crew of Montana Fish, Wildlife, and Parks employees. Crew leader Ken Frazer explained to students how the electro-shock process that they were using that day helps FWP understand the health, density, and composition of the River’s fish population. 

As students headed back to Harlo, the clouds looked like they MIGHT produce a thunderstorm. In the course of the day, students had already heard the word “drought” more than any other--and had been wrestling with the impacts of no snow pack, streams already running lower than mid-summer levels--water already too scarce to serve a variety of Upper Musselshell needs. 

Posted by Marcella Sherfy on 04/15 at 08:55 AM
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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

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

Simms Heritage Fair
   Simms High School

Superintendent Fay Lesmeister introduced the evening, noting that there was no better form of learning, and that students “would remember the processes and procedures they went through long after they had forgotten the facts” they found.  The name of this year’s project was “Transportation and Roads in the Sun River Valley--Centuries on the Move.”

An important innovation was made this year. The entire program was presented twice--once at 2:00 in the afternoon and once at 6:30 in the evening. This allowed the middle school to attend in the afternoon, along with elders who dislike being out in the evening, while still allowing working parents to make the evening presentation.

Letting the middle schoolers see the program seems very important. They note the serious academic effort made by high school juniors, but they also know what’s ahead of them. Since the project has been doing these fairs for 8 years in Simms, and since all junior students participate, it has become part of the local culture. Students compare fairs from various years and argue over which were best.

If, instead of standardized tests, we put our energy into academic performances held in public with honors for superior work, I think we could make great gains in improving schools. Several things seem important:

  1. The performance should draw the public in. The best way to do this is probably just what we do: focus on local history and involve as many members of the community as possible in the actual work.
  2. Younger students should be involved as audience, so they know what is coming and can imitate what they most admire.
  3. High standards should be maintained, with abundant public praise for solid academic work.

The Greeks developed drama to a high level using this model, just as we have done with basketball. Simms persuades me the same processes would work well with academics. 

A powerpoint, featuring photographs and some text from each student’s research, was the main event. But the program also included numbers by the high school choir and band, as well as songs sung by the audience (recorded music with words on the powerpoint screen), and poetry readings by students.

Each student read a few words giving highlights of their findings along with photographs (all properly cited).

Right down to the last minute, Dottie works on the script with a student rehearsing at the micorphone. (Dottie, can you or a student post a comment identifying the girl, along with others in the photos below?)

The back of the gym featured an ample number of display panels featuring the researches of the various teams. The topic “transportation” was organized around 5 research groups.

One did maps--studying the changes in mapping over time as well as creating maps from the earliest time to the present into a Geographical Information System (GIS) program that lets them see the maps overlaid in various layers, so they can readily tell what changes occurred in roads and railroads and when. Students spent a lot of time mapping and photographing remnants of the Old North Trail used by the Blackfeet and of the Mullan Road, which has left faint traces on the prairie in a few places.

Another studied bridges--both the technology of building them and the impacts on the area when different places were connected--for example, the celebrations that occurred in 1912 when a bridge connected two previously separated counties.

One group examined businesses and how they were affected by changes in the railroad and roads. One, the Malmstrom Garage, sold Willys vehicles in 1928, then added gas, then closed up when people couldn’t afford gasoline in WWII. It emerged later as a gas station, then closed again when improved roads made it easier to get to Great Falls without buying gas at higher local prices.

One group studied the changes in road building technology through the decades, from horse-drawn equipment to the present.

One group studied vehicles.

Josh Clixby, the history teacher who will act as local project director next year, said “These students learned more doing these projects than I could have taught them in seven years of lectures.” He said he considered some of the writing to be “college level” work. 

One striking thing about the project is how many elderly people it attracts. I’ve never seen anything that got so much support from the “grandparent class.”

Dottie uses willing elders repeatedly, sending students back to interview them again and again as new issues come up, or asking them to phone and ask.  Many of them are strong advocates of the project.

There was a dinner (chile and pie) between the two performances, and quite a few people stayed in the school visiting with one another.

Since there is no longer really a town at Simms, much of the study focused on the loss of what had once existed. “How could something so great just vanish?” one of the students asked. Not a bad question for kids from Montana to be pondering.

One of the most stunning projects was done by a handful of talented students working with local mentor (and engineer) Chuck Merja. They used satellite photos of the area and overlaid them on topo maps with software capable of 3-dimensional modeling. The result is a computer simulation that allows you to fly over the region, seeing the landforms and buildings as they actually appear from the sky. You can “fly” down particular canyons following a creek or river, hover over the Rocky Mountains, zoom down on neighborhoods in Great Falls. Though I knew such things could be done, I didn’t know they could be done on laptops in high schools. A wonderful group of kids. What a sophisticated understanding of the landscape is within our reach!

Heidi Tynes, the girl on the right, is student body president as well as one of the leaders in the computerized mapping project. An impressive young woman. She did an exceptional job of hosting the station and drawing the elderly people into what the students had done.

It was a long program--an hour and a half--mostly built around a powerpoint that summarized the students’ most evocative findings. This included hundreds of historical photographs--and I believe every one of them was properly cited. Quite an amazing academic performance for such young people.

Posted by Michael L Umphrey on 03/15 at 09:46 PM
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© 2005 Montana Heritage Project

Wednesday, March 02, 2005

Norma Beatty Ashby Visits BHS Students and Community Members
   Townsend (Broadwater County High School)

Norma Beatty Ashby, author, and former producer/host of KRTV’s “Today in Montana” visited with Broadwater High School students and commmunity members about her recent book, Movie Stars & Rattlesnakes, and her role in journalism in the 1960s. 


Norma is often referred to as a Broadwater County native daughter because her roots run deep within the area.  Her great-grandfather, George Beatty homesteaded near Winston and farmed the area for 67 years until he died at the age of 97.  Norma lived with her parents on her grandfather’s ranch and attended Beaver Creek School, where she made her first public debut in a Christmas program at the age of 5.  Norma is shown with an original essay she wrote in high school about the life of her grandfather.  She had based her story on two personal interviews and she has proudly preserved it all of these years.  Here Supt. Brian Patrick accepts a copy of the essay to be used as historical reference. 

Norma reflected on her career in journalism and live television in the early years.  Many of the students had questions pertaining to her career in the 1960s and what it was like to interview presidents, first ladies and movie stars of that era.  Norma shared a variety of pictures, scrapbooks and dozens of stories with the eager listeners. 

After a 27 year career in television and over 26,000 interviews, Norma recalled her most memorable guest--a rattlesnake handler who slit open a rattle snake on live television and and then placed the rattles in her hand. The event itself was shocking for the audience, however, it was the thirteen baby rattlesnakes that escaped around the studio that made everyone think quickly on their feet.  Norma has related the story dozens of times but fear still overtakes her when discussing snakes.

Posted by Darlene on 03/02 at 01:37 PM
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© 2005 Montana Heritage Project

Saturday, February 19, 2005

White Sulphur Springs Students Tackle the Mysteries of a 90-Year-Old Crime
   White Sulphur Springs High School

Nancy Brastrup’s 19 White Sulphur Springs High School seniors are again in pursuit of elusive historical information. Intetgrating their understanding of justice in America with their heritage work, students have begun unraveling many questions that surround a 1917 murder near Judith Gap and the very speedy hanging of three African-Americans for that crime. They are wrestling, in fact, with both the details of the event and its larger context: was this event part of a larger labor and railroad dispute; was the IWW involved; were local attitudes the precursor of later KKK activities; was justice served.

But research into an event that occurred ninety years ago has its challenges. On Thursday, February 10, 2005, Dave Walter and I had the opportunity to spend two hours with Miss Brastrup’s seniors and Mrs. Wilhelm’s sophomores visiting about the great fun and the great frustrations of primary source research. Dave brought the file of material he’d collected before writing about “The Somprero Murder: A Meagher County Mystery.” He talked students through the value of finding contextual information (weather; days of the week from a perpetual calendar; other local, regional, and national events); of using a wide array of primary source documents; and of visiting and documenting the actual locations of the events being studied.  I tried to reinforce Dave’s real-life experiences with a variety of handouts, including a look at how historians work like detectives

The following Wednesday, February 16, 2005, Nancy brought her full class of seniors for a day of research at the Montana Historical Society. As half of the class visited legislative hearings, the other half immersed themselves in secondary and primary source research. Here, Amy O’Neill and Sara Seidlitz pore over archival documents.

The Lewistown City Directories allowed Shannon Griffeth to confirm the name and location of the attorney who defended the African-American men accused of the murders. 

By spells, the hum of three microfilm readers in operation dominated the Society’s reading room, while Lacey Morrison and several other students skimmed microfilmed newspapers from Great Falls, Lewistown, Helena, and Billings to see whether the crime received broader publicity. Other students worked carefully through historic prison records, Taylor and Rose Gordon papers, and the Governor Samuel Stewart’s papers looking both for information about community sentiments and to determine how or whether state leaders were involved in the case. 

Kevin Hockstrat and Becky Teague examined historic photographs in the Society’s Photograph Archives holdings. Within an hour, staff had helped them locate an image of the building in which the three black men were hung and street and relevant railroad scenes from the Judith Gap area. 

By 2:00, the White Sulphur students had gathered up their notes, microfilm copies, and xeroxes to head home. They had learned for themselves what Dave had explained a week before--that research isn’t linear, that you may not find just what you are looking for specifically, that you are also likely to find treasures you didn’t anticipate, and that, if you document your search well, you and others can build on it at any point in the future.

The students’ work at the Society benefited enormously from patient and interested help by the Research Center’s staff--orchestrated by Rich Aarstad. Because Nancy had provided him with a list of the kinds of materials she wanted her students to explore, he and others in the library, archives, and photo-archives assembled as much as they could ahead of time---and spent a pretty active day of assistance that Wednesday as well.

Nancy and her students will soon visit the scene of the railroad murders, gather more research materials from the Minnesota Historical Society’s Great Northern railroad records, and evaluate what all the material that they’ve found so far might tell them--about that one crime and about how that era approached justice.

Posted by Marcella Sherfy on 02/19 at 11:06 AM
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© 2005 Montana Heritage Project

Wednesday, February 09, 2005

Heritage Project in Corvallis
   Corvallis High School


Corvallis High School students Kirstin Bull and Sunni Bleibtrey complete a tombstone rubbing of one of the many pioneers of the Corvallis area.  The assignment called for the review of census records from 1990 and 1910, archival research at the Ravalli County Museum, and a review of Corvallis Cemetery records.  Completed projects featured the tombstone rubbing, archival obituaries, and representative images in a collage.

Posted by Michael L Umphrey on 02/09 at 10:14 PM
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© 2005 Montana Heritage Project

Tuesday, February 08, 2005

Townsend Students Research Broadwater Museum and Courthouse
   Townsend (Broadwater High School)

Broadwater High School Students have always had the tremendous opportunity to begin their Montana Heritage Project studies by utilizing the resources available in the Broadwater County Museum and Historical Society and the Broadwater County Court House.  Here, Mike Castleberry, the museum’s curator, assists the juniors in researching their 1910 Expedition.  Several students focused their projects on houses and buildings, local school districts, mining, cemeteries, and privately owned ranches. 

Hannah did extensive research about Townsend’s medical community.  Hannah was particularly intrigued by not only the local physicians and their medical instruments, but also the various diseases and illnesses that were prevalent in the early 1900s.

BHS senior, Tyler finds that he can piece together Townsend’s Main Street in the 1960s by researching court house records.  The students divided Main Street businesses and researched what stores were stores were present and serving the community.

Shane looks on while Landon emphasizes a piece of 1960s information that he has discovered while attempting to rediscover Townsend nearly 50 years ago.  Public records, photos, maps, scrapbooks and old newspapers have been necessary sources in developing both the 1910 Expedition and the 1960s project.

Posted by Darlene on 02/08 at 08:53 AM
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© 2005 Montana Heritage Project

Monday, February 07, 2005

Ronan High School Students Collect Veterans Oral Histories
   Ronan High School


To begin the oral history unit, Michelle Christ and Nick McDaniels interviewed Michelle’s stepfather Chuck Lwwis, a Vietnam Veteran, in front of the class. After the interview the class was able to do a critique of the process and discuss stengths and identify areas of improvement as they prepared to go conduct their own interviews.


Another class also interviewed Eldon Umphrey, a veteran of the War in Iraq. In addition to sharing his experiences, Eldon also brought photos and artifacts like an Iraqi gas mask and the prayer rug he’d holding here.


Jolynn Fisher interviews Kim Sprow.


Jenna Luchau interviewed Silas Perez and some of her classmates listened in on the interview.


Andrew Graham and Sterling Green work on typing transcriptions of their interviews.

Posted by Christa Umphrey on 02/07 at 04:49 PM
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© 2005 Montana Heritage Project

Old North Trail Adventure
   Simms High School


Old North Trail Historical Sign - 13 miles west of Choteau on Teton Pass Road


Old North Trail Marker


At left, Sylvan Susag, mentor, and at far right, Neah Parshall, junior Heritage Project student.  Al Wiseman, in center, is a Metis historian raised in Choteau, Montana.  He is showing them the map of granite boulders he and other interested community members placed along the 10,000 year Old North Trail in Teton County. 

Posted by Dottie Susag on 02/07 at 04:46 PM
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© 2005 Montana Heritage Project

Gene Yahvah in his classroom
   Libby High School


Posted by Jeff Gruber on 02/07 at 04:44 PM
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© 2005 Montana Heritage Project

Talking about Memories
   Harlowton High School


Harlowton student shares a memory


Bringing items from family history allows students and parents to talk about family history

Posted by nancywiddicombe on 02/07 at 04:44 PM
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© 2005 Montana Heritage Project

Wednesday, February 02, 2005

Townsend Students Take a Walk Down Broadway and into the 1960s
   Townsend (Broadwater County High School)

While Darlene Beck and Julie Diehl, Broadwater High School Montana Heritage Project teachers, have immersed junior English students in the 1910 era, they’ve introduced their seniors to questions surrounding the 1960s and what the community of Townsend was like—and why—during that era.

In addition, as a special, extracurriculur prooject, students in Darlene’s Advanced English IV class are concentrating on the evolution of Townsend’s main street (Broadway) from 1960 to the present

On Monday afternoon, January 31, 2005, Montana Historical Society/Preservation Office architectural historian Rolene Schliesman (black coat in front looking up) joined Mrs. Beck and Mrs. Diehl in a second in their series of walks along Broadway to document and analyze what has survived, what has been changed, and what has been lost in the past 45 years.

Rolene helped students to look for architectural features that are distinctive to particular time periods and to hunt for early details that were not quite covered over by 1940-1970s applications of plaster, rustic siding, or fake stone. 

A day later, Mrs. Beck noted that, “The students will never look at glass windows and door ways the same again.� Here, at the end of the walk, LaToya Bazemore, has begun to find architectural anomalies herself.

Mrs. Diehl, (behind videographer Josh Smith) who arrived in the Townsend area in the 1960s as a grade school student, helped students picture all the businesses that she and her parents patronized then—--businesses, and in some cases, buildings, that are gone today. 

Darlene and Julie’s seniors will now interview other community members who worked or owned businesses on Broadway, scour the community and state agency resources for historic photographs and maps, and continue to wrestle with “why� a main drag once lined with gas stations, car dealerships, hardware stores, and shoe repair shops has changed so dramatically.

Posted by Marcella Sherfy on 02/02 at 11:05 AM
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© 2005 Montana Heritage Project

Tuesday, January 11, 2005

Broadwater County High School Students Learn Through Service
   Townsend (Broadwater County High School)

The following article appeared in the December 23, 2004, Townsend Star--based on material that Broadwater High School Heritage Project Teacher Darlene Beck submitted to the paper.

Broadwater High School juniors had a new twist on learning by creating their own community service projects.  After the honors junior English class concluded their reading and study of Upton Sinclair’s novel, The Jungle, the final assignment was for students to create a project that would reflect the theme of the novel. 

“You don’t have to be satisfied with America as you find it.  You can change it.â€? wrote Sinclair.  Thus, students were encouraged to make a difference; they needed to design, plan, and complete a project that would serve the Townsend community.  The goal was to alleviate some of the difficulties that were apparent in 1906 and still with us today.

Students strived to improve various aspects in the community by working with the environment, children, the elderly, and those in need during the holiday season.  Some of the service projects enhanced speech, cooperative and physical activities with children.  Some students assisted with the Christmas Connection, visited the elderly, or baked cookies with children.

Miranda Prevel and Alex Potter (next image) assist in a pre-school so students will have more interaction with people and make new friends. 


Lane Gobbs pays a holiday visit to a local senior citizen and offers a holiday basket.

Many of the students were touched by the projects and enjoyed doing something for others. 

“I truly enjoyed this project, not only because I had a good time myself, but mostly because I know that it brightened the lives of others in the community.  This project was meaningful to everyone involved.â€?

“The whole service project idea made me feel good--giving to the elderly, spending time with the 2nd graders and just seeing a smile on everyone’s face…..I really enjoyed it!�

“I know the project was meaningful to members of the community…but most of all it was meaningful to the group, because we learned we can make a difference.�

Posted by Marcella Sherfy on 01/11 at 11:33 AM
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© 2005 Montana Heritage Project

Saturday, December 18, 2004

Bird Walking in Simms - Part 1
   Simms High School

I spent 3 days as an “embedded journalist,” shadowing Dorothea ("Dottie") Susag from the time she got up till she went to bed. She was gracious enough to allow me to stay at her house and eavesdrop on her many conversations with students, other teachers, mentors, and administrators. It took tremendous energy trying to keep up with her. Her colleague, Colleen Green, uses the term “bird-walking” to talk about Dottie’s conversational style. She’ll be talking about one thing, and, in mid-sentence she’ll begin talking about something else--the way a bird will be walking along then suddenly hop to one side, walking in a new direction.

But whatever she’s talking about, she’s paying complete attention to it. Until she isn’t. Her teaching style involves constant shifting of attention from student to student--talking between classes about one students’ essay on roads, then shifting immediately to the next students’ concern about making travel arrangement to an interview. Dozens--or hundreds--of times a day she shifts her focus to different students with different issues. The demands on a teacher’s attention are all but unimaginable to those who don’t teach.

I was only observing, and it wore me out.

Dottie has returned to teaching this year after a year of retirement. After some staff shuffles related to financial difficulties, the district ended up without enough English teachers. They discussed several staffing options involving assigning other teachers to teach English part time, but none of them seemed great. “It’s a shame,” said Colleen Green. “You’re sitting here not teaching anyone.” Colleen asked Dottie’s husband, Sylvan, if he would support Dottie’s return to the classroom. “Absolutely,” he said.  “I saw how bored she was. On the computer 8 hours a day.” Sylvan is a retired principal and counselor, who has worked at Fairfield, Augusta, and Poplar.

Colleen then discussed the idea with Dottie and with school leaders. Dottie was discussed, though with everyone carefully not mentioning her by name, at a school board meeting before anyone in authority talked to her. When the dust cleared, the board voted to rehire her. Though Dottie said she enjoyed being retired and had “things I want to do,” she accepted the position. Because of the master agreement between the union and the board, she gets no credit on the salary schedule for her years experience. She is paid only $12,000 for a half time job.”

“I’m certainly not doing it for the money,” she said. “They needed me. There wasn’t anyone else. What could I do? There wasn’t anything I could do.”

Nearly everyone’s place on the Fairfield Bench is surrounded by a shelterbelt of trees such as poplar, Russian olive, spruce, caragana, or fir. These contrived islands of forest provide protection from the wind, which is a steady feature of life on the northern plains. Houses are usually spaced about a quarter mile or a half mile apart, separated by irrigated grain fields edged with canals and ditches.  Most of the places have a house and a few outbuildings--grain silos, machinery sheds, garages--and they arise like islands, or maybe castles, in the flat landscape that looks the same in every direction to the stranger who doesn’t recognize particular places. Their looming isolation gives them a fortress-like aspect. People live spaced out in the sometimes harsh landscape, so it’s not surprising that they value independence, competence, responsibility, and, of course, neighborliness.

Dottie Susag lives on the Fairfield Bench, about 15 miles north of her job at Simms High School, and about 10 miles from Fairfield, 18 miles from Choteau. Wherever she goes, it’s four miles of gravel before pavement. The coming of the Greenfields Irrigation Project during Theordore Roosevelt’s administration led homesteaders to the area and still accounts for the place’s character.

On the first day I visited (December 13, 2004) the community mentors were in the library meeting with students, giving them background information and suggesting research strategies--who they might interview, who might have photos. There were ten students and ten mentors. Finding commuity members who are willing to help and inviting them to come to the school regularly to work with students is a vital part of Dottie’s approach to heritage education.

The overall topic this year is “transportation” and students are grouped into research teams focused on sub-topics, such as roads, railroads, bridges, vehicles, and construction.

Herb Sharp (shown) was invited in to talk about the Fort Shaw Irrigation Project, which he managed. He came to the valley in 1938, and seemingly knows everything about the history of dams, roads, railroads, and canals. As he talked, other groups paid more and more attention. By the end of the period, he was fielding questions from everyone in the library and everyone was listening to him.  “That road ended at the county line. . .â€? “There weren’t any bridges over Flat Creek. . .â€? He told stories of things that had happened, such as the man who skidded materials onto Square Butte in 1918 and drilled a well. “He got water, but it was alkali.”

His information triggered memories from other mentors. Kermit remembered riding the railroad to Great Falls. “A dollar a round trip. I’d ride the train to Sun River, jump off and run to school.�

That tub on the table is one of the main organizational tools for the project. Each group has its own tub, so that students who are working on “bridges,” for example, but in different periods can share their work. A memo pad in each tub is used as a log. Students log any research they’ve done: interviews completed, articles located, photographs found. Photocopies of photographs that might be used in the final powerpoint are placed in the tub, with complete bibliographic citations stapled to them. The Simms powerpoints excel at having every photograph that’s used properly sourced.

Tuesday (December 14, 2004) was spent at the Cascade County Library in Great Falls, which has an extensive archives.  Chuck Merja, long-time mentor in the Simms project, found detailed maps of the Mullan Road. He is doing a special projects grant with a few students (including Jessica Eastley, whom you met last summer) that involves scanning the oldest maps they can find into a GIS program, then adding layers for later changes in roads and railroads and canals. Their final product will be a local data base of geographical information. “It makes it easy to see change,” he said.

Heidi Tynes, one of the students working with Chuck (and student body president), examines newspapers clippings from the vertical file, looking for information on trails through the area--such as the Whoop-up Trail, Mullan Road, and the Old North Trail. Heidi’s individual focus is upon changes in mapping techniques and conventions.

Dottie was in constant motion, moving from student to student asking questions and suggesting research topics: “If you are interested in studying freighting, you might look in the back of the city directories. There are lists of businesses and you can find a freight company. If it mentions a family name, you can look at the obitiuaries, and you might find the names of families that are still in the valley. . .”

Photo note: The light on the third floor of the library was gorgeous, but tricky. To get this shot, I aimed the camera at the window above Heidi, then pushed the exposure lock button, so when I lowered the camera to point it at her, it woudn’t expose for her and wash out the window to white. Then I turned on the flash to light her, so she wouldn’t appear silhouetted.

After school, Dottie stopped for a 30 minute workout at the Benchmark Physical Therapy and Sports Medicine gym in Fairfield. She had already done 15 minutes in the morning before work. She tries to do 45-minutes 5 days a week, but only usually ends up getting 3 workouts a week. “I get busy doing something,” she said.

To get students thinking about transportation, Dottie had each of them write an essay about roads. After their first drafts, she began asking questions designed to get them deeper into the topic. In using roads, where do you need to get to and why? How have the purposes or destinations changed since you were able to drive yourself? When you think about roads, do you first visualize people, vehicles, landscape including buildings, or something else? Why? How does your thinking about or your use of roads and transportation reveal what you value? How might the purposes or destinations of roads or transportation have changed from a different time? Why?

She stresses specificity. No credit for generalizations. She also urges students to write things only they could write, learning to trust their own voices: “Why are you writing about a family trip? You don’t even live with your family?”

Posted by Michael L Umphrey on 12/18 at 12:16 AM
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© 2004 Montana Heritage Project

Friday, December 17, 2004

Bird walking in Simms - Part 2
   Simms High School

Student Elicia Cataldo knows gold when she sees it. Alice Heisel (right) volunteers at the Cascade County Library on Tuesday mornings. She knew the Simms kids were coming to find materials related to the Sun River Valley on the general topic of transportation, so she brought copies of photos and correspondence from her private collection: two photographs of Malmgren’s Garage, a Wyllis-Wippet dealership in Simms, along with a letter from the garage written on October 22, 1930.

Dottie believes it’s important to connect the students with a tangible resource such as this before helping them develop a research focus. “The kids need something concrete. Pictures of bridges. Something to touch. Only about a third are abstract learners.”

Newspapers were one of the best source of essay topics. Though each student will create an independent research paper, they were grouped by topic--bridges, roads, vehicles, construction--and students from several groups looked at the same newspapers, each scanning the page with a different focus. “If they can find anything--even a single article--they have a place to start.”

By the end of the day, she had a list of topics selected by 29 different students, which was nearly everyone.

The work through the day was a nonstop series of one-on-one conferences with students, trying to link them with a topics, cultural artifacts such as photos or maps or articles, and resource people to interview and to ask for help. Much of the work took the form of asking question after question: “What businesses were there in 1880 aren’t there anymore? When did things fail? Why?.” “Could somebody could write an essay about–do you know how a model T engine works and how it’s different than a modern engine?”

She moves quickly from student to student, firing questions, asking about discoveries, and passing on excitement about “finds.” “Hydee Rushton found an article on the effects on businesses in Vaughn when the road was relocated, and her grandfather was in it!”

And more questions: “Look at the business directories for 1932 and 1935. What changed? Why?” “Can you write an essay about that business, because it’s not there anymore. That was somebody’s dream. What kind of hopes and dreams did people have? What happened to them?â€?

She kept directing students back to people in Simms who could help them: “What if you were to deal with floods and the railroad? That means you need to look at a flood book. One of the places you can do that is at Warren Hardings’. He’s one of the mentors that comes to the school.â€?

Between classes and after school the conferences continue. She mixes exhortation and encouragement somewhat seamlessly with the questioning. She pushes students who are ready for it toward larger questions: “What about the battle to get this 40 miles of Sun River Road–the two lane road–built? Who were the big players? Where did the money come from? What does that tell you about us? Look at the fight over what to do with the middle school that we’re having now. Look how hard it is to get something built. If you really dug into the petition to get the road–how it affected the community, what it teaches us about ourselves. You can do it. I know you can. You are so smart I’d like you to find something you could really get your brains into. Can I write you down for that?â€?

Dottie’s favorite place driving to work each morning is the break in the hill where the Fairfield Bench drops suddenly into the Sun River Valley, affording a spectacular view of the expanse, with Square Butte, Shaw Butte, and Crown Butte in the ochre distance ahead and the jagged blue Rocky Mountain front marking the horizon to the west.

“You can’t do this work if you don’t love the place. I love the changes you can see in the sky when you drive over the hill--the clouds, the colors. I never get tired of it.  You think about everything that’s happened here. We have an oral interview that mentions a two room cave on Square Butte large enough to ride a horse into. We need to go back and look at the transcript to see if we can locate it. We don’t know if anyone used it--maybe Native Americans or the army.”

She has dozens of plans for further adventures, such as taking kids to a place where Mullan Road is still visible.

Posted by Michael L Umphrey on 12/17 at 11:14 PM
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© 2004 Montana Heritage Project

Friday, December 10, 2004

Chester Students Ask Abandoned Buildings to Yield Stories
   Chester High School

Chester Heritage Project teacher Renee Rasmussen is asking her Montana Project students to wade into the waters of Montana Heritage Project work one step at a time. They began by researching heirlooms important to their families. Next, they took photographs of historic and usually abandoned rural buildings, conducted preliminary research about them, and wrote a five-paragraph essay.

Renee invited me to come up with a box full of architectural history books and whatever ideas I might have for further research that might help her students expand their essays.  I wouldn’t have missed the opportunity.

I found these Chester juniors already attached to the buildings they had documented and the stories that they gathered. Ultimately, they will tackle questions such as: what do old farm buildings tell us today about success and failure of past residents and what clues can we gather for our present and future; how do old buildings tie into a clichéd expectation of western beauty; what do these abandoned buildings tell us about technology and its effect on Montana.

Already, Ashley and Brianne have evaluated conflicting stories about when a schoolhouse/teacherage was moved from one part of Liberty County to another--and why. Amanda and Caleb have unearthed one of the country’s little known episodes while they researched an abandoned homestead house. In the 1940s, area ranch families hired Native Americans from the Rocky Boy’s reservation to remove rocks up from their fields. Ranchers housed these laborers in first-generation homestead structures. The elegant but empty Victorian house that Joanna and Kayla (pictured here) have photographed and researched turns out to have earned its local reputation as having a scary and complicated past. And these are only third of the structures whose pasts point students into lively contemporary issues, such as: will the Galata get to keep its post office; what happens if it does not? 

Renee orchestrated our conversations and still had time to consult with a school board member on consolidation: a phenomenon that students now realize began right after the nineteen-teens.

Meanwhile, Renee’s sophomore English students have been creating metaphors.

What a delightful—heartening way to spend a day? Every single building that the nine teams selected provides a cutaway view of issues, technology, architectural styling, and community patterns that are worth pursuing. Every team was ready for me and took notes.

Renee’s students will now choose whether they want to tease more information and meaning from the buildings they’ve already studied or select new topics for their longer research paper.

Posted by Marcella Sherfy on 12/10 at 09:57 AM
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© 2004 Montana Heritage Project

Thursday, November 18, 2004

Simms High School’s First Veterans Assembly
   Simms High School

On Wednesday, November 10, 2004, at 1:00 p.m., Simms High School hosted its first Veterans Day assembly. It was an all-school, all-district, and community effort—sponsored by the Simms High School Student Council. Vaughn schools provided the decorations. Valley middle schoolers joined high school students for the assembly. Community historical society members and veterans attended too.

Beginning with Heidi Tynes, Student Council president, and Brittanee Klick, pictured here, who began the ceremony, students served as well-spoken and gracious hosts and announcers.

Current Montana Heritage Project students Jordan Rogers, Jessica Eastley, and Chelsey Younggren presented a PowerPoint program. In an echo-and-response format, Jessica, and Chelsea acknowledged that students often do not know or understand war at all. “We ask, “ they said, “is it like a Nintendo game; do we only fight for good causes; does it stop when we want it to.â€?  They then presented insights into those questions that their Project counterparts had learned in 2002 from their veterans’ interviews. With historic and current images of those veterans in front of us, those of us in the audience got to “hearâ€? the interviewed veterans explaining why they had fought and what they remembered from their experiences. 

In several important ways, the program was crafted from work accomplished by previous Heritage Project students. At the back of the gym, students had created posters and banners listing Sun River residents who had lost their lives in war and identifying those buried at the Sun River Cemetery—information now available as a result of last year’s cemetery recording and database project.  Most of the community members attending clearly felt at home in the school—having been interview subjects and mentors for earlier Heritage Project research. As they arrived and left, these elders greeted and were greeted by students and teachers. Simms’ Veterans’ Day program not only recognized veterans—it honored the ties and civilities and memories of community.

The high school concert choir led the audience in patriotic music. New history (and Heritage Project) teacher Josh Clixby talked about how and why we need to better understand war and the experiences of soldiers. Ten members of the Montana Air National Guard provided a program called “Operation Patriotism� that described the history of the American flag and the etiquette associated with the presentation of our colors. Students gave each guard member a rose. English teacher Steve Lundgren explained the life lessons he had learned from his career in the military

Although community members got to visit over dessert in the home economics room, students returned to class. I had a great opportunity to watch as Dottie Susag and Josh Clixby reinforced their current oral history lessons by drawing on the program that students had just witnessed.

Posted by Marcella Sherfy on 11/18 at 10:27 AM
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© 2004 Montana Heritage Project

Tuesday, November 16, 2004

Townsend’s Fifth Annual Veterans’ Recognition Program
   Townsend (Broadwater County High School)

On Thursday, November 11, 2004 at 3:00 p.m., Darlene Beck and her senior honors English class hosted the Broadwater High School Heritage Project’s fifth annual veterans’ recognition program.

Students greeted veterans and their families as they came into the community meeting room.

Students invited attendees to sign the guest book and consider being interviewed for class’s current 1960s research project. In fact, the printed program contained a written explanation of this year’s work including sample questions for potential interviewees to consider: how did the Vietnam War affect your life as a Broadwater County citizen; how do you view growing up in the 1960s as different from being a child today; what businesses flourished in Broadwater County then and why are they no longer here.

Darlene’s classes had decorated with streamers and one-page biographies of Broadwater County veterans whose stories students have captured over the years. 

Jimmy Shindoll emceed as other students handled a flag ceremony (Landon Rauser and Darren Johns), music, and readings of poetry and essays. In a frustrating turn of events, many of Darlene’s English students had duties at the exact same time around the corner in the gym as Townsend hosted, played in, and won the first game of the South Central Volleyball Divisional tournament. So, the students who participated in the event literally wore a variety of hats. Heidi Myers played a cadence on the drums, the “Star-Spangled Bannerâ€? on her clarinet, and a medley of patriotic songs on the piano.  Kayla Peters and Landon Rauser participated both as students and as enlisted service personnel. Three young men from the construction class took over as photographers. 

La Reiss Martinez and Josie Evans presented all of the 25 veterans and service men and women attending with a special pin. Here, Dan Hunsaker, United States Navy, 1944-1948, receives his pin from Josie. As they have done in earlier years, veterans gathered at the front of the room to receive the thanks of their community and to let students and family members take group photos. Veterans of more recent conflicts helped their older counterparts with a steadying arm and good humor.

Emily Feddes greeted visitors as “Uncle Sam� and served punch.

While Darlene, Julie Diehl, and their students may have felt the pressure of that scheduling conflict, the fifty folks in attendance did not. I was privileged to watch and listen as community members lingered over punch and cake to visit and to thank the students for remembering them.

And then I was struck once again with how formidable workdays are for our Project teachers. By the time Darlene had carried the last punch bowl back to her room, she was already talking about the next steps in her 1960s project.

Posted by Marcella Sherfy on 11/16 at 01:43 PM
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© 2004 Montana Heritage Project

Friday, November 12, 2004

5th annual Bigfork Veterans Assembly (November 11, 2004)
   Bigfork High School

The Veterans Assembly on Veterans Day has become an important community tradition in the five years Mary Sullivan’s classes have been doing them. It gets richer each year. The consumer science class provides cookies and punch, and the English class provides oral histories. This year’s event was heralded by a front page story in The Missoulian which may have boosted attendance by veterans and community members.

The program gives students chances to use their talents--Alyssa Hands played taps on the bugle; and Kyla Browning, Quinn Butterfield, Bettreena Jaeger, and Ross Holcomb sang “Land That We Love” accompanied on the piano by Carmen Fenn.  Brooke Andrus had a chance to share and develop her considerable poise and charm as master of ceremonies. The Swan Valley Youth Academy demonstrated their precision marching by posting the colors. Summerlee Luckow and Cayla Fox designed attractive programs, which included on the back a list of the 56 oral interviews completed in the Veterans History Project over the past five years.

Each year, new views are added to the oral history collection. This year, two Gold Star Mothers were recognized at the assembly and students will search out Gold Star mothers to interview. Last year’s students interviewed conscientious objectors.

Throughout the program, the attention to detail is apparent: a well-decorated setting, well-prepared students, students in the parking lot directing traffic, student greeters meeting veterans at the door to escort them to their places, students at a table with guest book to invite signatures, and students with still and video cameras quietly fulfilling their assignments.

The parents of Bigfork High School graduate Matthew Saltz, who was Montana’s first casuality in the Iraq War, watch a Powerpoint memorial for Matt. It was the highlight of the program, a vivid example of what a powerful medium Powerpoint can be. I love to see these tools used to commemorate important events. Surely this is what they are for.

If you wonder whether anything important is happening, click on the photo to enlarge it, then look at the faces of those kids.

The format was simple--images of Matt with “Remember Me” playing on the sound track--but the production became a powerful event in the community’s history. Taken together, the images form an understated message about what matters in this culture, simply because they are images Matt and his family and friends chose to record: Matt smiling with friends, Matt at work and play, Matt in his firefighter and army uniforms. The slide show was a powerful message: have friends, work hard, learn to be good at things, set high goals, take your duty seriously.

Quote from Matt: “We didn’t need people to believe in us, because we believed in ourselves.”

The Bigfork High School Band, directed by Doug Peters, opened the assembly with the Star Spangled Banner. The gym was packed. The assembly was reasonably brief, easily fitting into a school period, and the program included three musical numbers to keep the energy high.

Alyssa Hands reads an oral history of Kenneth Caverly. Each of the six junior classes read a one 1-page oral history of a veteran. The entire program was scripted. Students were dressed up and knew what they were doing at each moment. Even the transitions between parts of the program were planned, with gracious statements from the student speakers. For example, at the end of the program, the Master of Cernmonies (Brooke Andrus) said, “Would veterans and community members please remain seated while students file out.” Every detail seemed anticipated and planned for, which gave the event an orderly and elegant tone.

Midway through the program, the high school band played each of the four service songs. Veterans were invited to stand when their song was played (the Marines got the most applause). The Missoulian noted that through oral interview projects students learn there’s “an unknown depth behind the most familiar faces.”

“Nobody’s ever asked us about it,” said a Bigfork veteran interviewed about the Project by the Missoulian. “It feels good to be asked. 

I thought of the line from Yeats’ Adam’s Curse: “we must labour to be beautiful.” The link between beauty and work seems worth more than a passing thought. Building on my own thoughts on teaching and beauty at Libby, it occurred to me watching this program how much students learn from Mary’s insistence that these events be beautifully done (I contrast this with the last school I worked at, where the unofficial motto for everything was “that’s good enough,” and where everything tended toward shabbiness).

Leaving the assembly, I felt that strange combination of hope and sadness that beauty often triggers--hope because we glimpse the realm from which beauty emerges and to which it is native, so we know that the better world we dream of really does exist, and sadness because for now it is momentary, the beauty unforming as it is formed.

Posted by Michael L Umphrey on 11/12 at 04:34 PM
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© 2004 Montana Heritage Project

Saturday, October 30, 2004

Jeff Gruber presents history of logging in Libby at MHS
   Libby High School


History teacher Jeff Gruber from Libby shared the podium with two other historians at the MHS Conference. Tney presented a history of logging in the Northwest, with an emphasis on Montana. It was an unusally well-done forum. The presentations covered different aspects of history and each was well-researched and well-presented. The room was packed and at least three people wanted copies of the talks. We’ll find a way to make them available to Heritage Project folks.

Together, the three presentations provided a way of looking at the way the Northwest has been shaped by this vital industry. Professor Emeritus Wlliam Robbins dicussed the history in terms of labor and capital, with a focus on the big players in the region. MHS research historian Rich Aarstaad focused on the labor movement in the progressive era, with an emphasis on the Wobblies in Montana. It was very useful for anyone wanting a better understanding of Montana circa 1910.

Jeff Gruber traced the changing ownership of the mills and timberlands in Libby, with an emphasis on management philosophies and the way they changed in response to market forces and the business environment. He took a somewhat tragic view, in that he didn’t see simple choices people could have made that would have made everything turn out well. He focused on the choices timber managers had to make, some of which led to good things for Libby but others of which have left Libby with real troubles.

I’m of the mind that Jeff’s paper should be required reading at Libby High School for at least a generation. If the only outcome of the Heritage Project was that it left Montana with community historians of Jeff’s caliber in place throughout the state, I would say that was enough to justify the investment.

He ended his talk with an image of a gambling casino that has been built in the past year on what was once the mill’s log yard. 

Posted by Michael L Umphrey on 10/30 at 03:09 PM
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© 2004 Montana Heritage Project

Friday, October 29, 2004

Whitefish students present at Montana Historical Society Conference

“A place that we love”

The Montana History Conference was held in Whitefish this year.

A traveler making the drive to Whitefish up the west shore of Flathead Lake moves through a landscape that attracts new residents from all over the country. Is it just the landscape that brings people here? Or is it also some idea they have about what Montana is, and who they might be if they came here? Whatever brings them, they will influence Montana’s future, just as earlier migrants did. What do they see here? What do they imagine the good life might be?

As people who are here now manage to articulate their own answers to such questions, they can have an influence on what sort of people are attracted to this place.

As part of the conference, students from Beth Beaulieu’s English classes last year did a slide presentation on their research into the transformation of Whitefish from a railroad town referred to locally as “Stumptown” to a renowned ski resort. Ann Danczyk, Mary Kohnstamm, Jana Rozar gave the presentation and Jacob Fern provided technological support. Students did the presentaton twice at the new public library across the street from the Depot.

The presentation gave a brief history of Whitefish, including some “now and then” rephotography, as well as a story of their own participation in that history by completing a variety of research projects leading up to publishing a book and presenting a program to the community. The presentation began and ended with brief statements from the students about why the project mattered to them, and how they felt about living in Whitefish.

The librarian said she has been repeatedly asked for copies of their book of essays on Whitefish history by people who saw the students’ display, which was set up in the library as part of the conference.

The students (shown: Mary Kohnstamm and Jacob Fern) were interviewed by reporter Lindsey Nelson for the Whitefish Pilot.

Dottie Susag pointed out after the student presentations at MEA by students from Simms, Chester, Whitefish, and Bigfork that students are the most important advocates for the Heritage Project. Indeed they are. I believe public schools will be revitalized when students, teachers and parents make common cause for an education that makes good sense. Students are the most important part of this, because people who listen to young people speaking articulately about important academic work that they have done are usually convinced. Other forms of evidence--self-interested testimony and statistics--are often suspect.

They also gave an on-camera interview to Eric Taber for the Montana News Station (CBS Affiliate KAJ-TV). He asked good questions and they gave good answers. Excerpts were broadcast that evening.

Ann, Mary, and Jana: Heritage Reporters

Though the girls did the project last year, they have been willing to travel and speak about the project this year. They said they didn’t have a good idea of how important the project was or what a big deal it was until after they attended the Youth Heritage Project late last March.

It might be helpful to share the latest issue of Heritage Education with students to give them an idea of what the project is about. Teachers who want classroom sets of the magazine, please contact one of the Project offices (Helena or St. Ignatius).

Is there anything else we can do to introduce new students to the importance and the excitement of this work?

Posted by Michael L Umphrey on 10/29 at 11:42 PM
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© 2004 Montana Heritage Project

Tuesday, October 26, 2004

Advisory Committee brings Sun River Valley community into school
   Simms High School

Looking north along the Rocky Mountain Front where Blackfeet once travelled the Old North Trail. This was part of the discussion at the Advisory Committee meeting in the Simms’ High School Library. The focus of this year’s research will be the history of transportation in the Sun River Valley. (Click on photo for larger view)

Dottie Susag visits with new superintendent George Linthicum. George has subscribed to the Montana Heritage Project listserv ( and seems quite interested in the work of the Heritage Project. The meeting was attended by about 18 people. Dottie began by asking what products created by the project have been of most value to the community, stressing the point that one of the Project’s main points is to serve the community.

Because each year’s kids are new to the project, this years kids will need to be taught again the value that the community puts on their work, Dottie noted.

“I like the contact with young people,” said Ruth Merja (Chuck’s mother). “They get to know us and that we aren’t just old and decrepit.”

Emma Toman noted that the cemetery data base has helped her answer inquiries about where graves are located, especially unmarked graves.

Molly Pasma conducted the meeting. Other teachers present included Josh Clixby (new this year: history) and Colleen Green (Chapter).  Students who attend the valley’s historical society meeting receive extra credit at school. One student was struck with “how careful they are about their records.”

Quite a lot of discussion focused on when to schedule the annual Heritage Fair, so as not to conflict with Iowa Basics, basketball tournaments, and other schedules. Last year the fair occurred in the afternoon, though before that it had always been in the evening. Norma Olsen noted that the afternoon worked better for elderly people “who don’t always like going out at night.” Dottie noted that many parents had not been able to attend the afternoon fair. The group settled on Monday, March 14. The displays will be set up after lunch and will stay up through the evening. The main powerpoint presentation will be done twice: once in the afternoon for elders and middle school and elementary school students, and again in the evening for parents and other high school students.

The final point of business was to introduce this year’s research topic--transportation--and to learn from the community what resources might be available. Josh Clixby gave an overview of the historical topics he will introduce in the history classes. Students will be put in teams to research particular topics, and each team will be responsible for understanding “chronologoical course, causes, and consequences” related to their topic. Chuck Merja will work with a special team focusing on technological issues for each topic.

There will be 32 students participating in this year’s project. Colleen Green suggested that students be given additional training in telephone etiquette this year. Dottie requested that each student be responsible for providing two photographs related to their topic: one historical and one contemporary.

Posted by Michael L Umphrey on 10/26 at 08:03 AM
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© 2004 Montana Heritage Project

Friday, October 22, 2004

Heritage Project teachers present series of workshops at MEA-AFT Conference in Helena

For the second year, a group of Heritage Project teachers got together to present a unified series of workshops at the annual MEA-AFT Educators Conference. The presentations were featured in full-page ad in the conference bulletin. The Project also rented 16 feet of space in the vender area and set up graphic displays to introduce the Project to other educators who were interested. The booth received a steady flow of visitors.

Using GPS to study a community through a cemetery database: Simms High School student Jessica Eastley (left) worked with Simms teacher Sarah Zook (center) and community mentor Chuck Merja (right)to put the information from 1100 graves at the Sun River Cemetery into a database. Using GPS, the data was linked to a graphical interface which allows people to look at the data in numberless ways. Though the work is just beginning, some of the names in the data base are also linked to photographs and to obituaries from historical newspapers. The data that can be added about each person in the data base, and the number of ways it can be queried, makes the data base a powerful tool for investigating the community’s history. A researcher could see everyone that died in 1965, or look at the average age of death of those who died in 1910, or in the 1940s. The American Legion even used the data base to quickly create a map of where all veterans were buried so they could place a flag on each grave on Memorial Day.

“It allows us to look at data in ways that otherwise would be impossible,” said Jessica. For example, the data revealed a dramatic increase in the average age of people who died in the 1930s and 1940s than in earlier years. Why? This pattern didn’t emerge until the data had been entered at the end of the year, so students have not researched what might account for it. 

Dorothea (Dottie) Susag, English teacher at Simms High School, presented tips for getting started on oral history projects. Her presentation was full of advice gleaned from years in which her students collected hundreds of interviews with Sun River Valley residents.  She has come to believe that oral interviewing should be included at every grade level because students learn so many valuable things from the process. In addition to strong academic skills, they learn “how people feel validated when others ask questions to probe who they are.”

Her talk was full of useful tips. For example, a common problem with novice interviews is that they tend not be be very good at asking the follow-up questions necessary to evoke full and detailed stories. Dottie has students practice with a clock. They have to ask one question and then keep their interview subject talking about that question for fifteen minutes by asking as many follow-up questions as necessary. She has them do this with guest interview subjects who come to the class, with their parents, and with each other. After they interview each other, she asks them how it feels to have another person wondering about them. They say it feels good.

C. R. Leisinger, Tiffany Mahah, and Kristin Kuhn told the story of the Veterans History Project they completed in Bigfork. This led to a woman from outside Montana learning about the last day of her brother’s life. He was killed in Vietnam when she was a small girl, and one of the interview subjects had been with him at the time. The veteran’s history project has become an annual tradition in Bigfork, culminating in a school-wide assembly on Veterans day. Veterans are honored and the entire community is invited to attend.

Each year, a new aspect of the topic is explored by collecting oral histories for the community archives. Last year, the focus was on conscientious objectors. This led to students discovering, with the help of research historian Dave Walter, that a detention camp had operated near Bigfork during World War II.

This coming year, students will focus on Gold Star Mothers--mothers who lost sons at war.

Kristin Kuhn read a 1-page version of the oral history she did. While the complete oral histories are valuable for their details, these brief versions also have many uses. For one thing, they are powerfully dramatic. All writers learn that the art of being concise is focus. To get a good one-page version, students need to identify what is most vivid, memorable, and valuable.

Hearing a half-dozen students read such narrative, especially when combined with slides of the subject’s life, creates a moving and entertaining public heritage event.

One of the audience members asked Kristin what she had learned through the project. “I learned to be more insightful,” she said without hesitation. “Before I did this work, I had no idea the things that people in this town really know--the things that people have been through. It opened my mind. They tell us things we’ll never forget.”

Nancy Brastrup, history teacher from White Sulphur Springs, talked about the experience of being a “newcomer” the Heritage Project. She focused on giving advice to those who were just starting out.

She advised teachers to do enough preliminary research to ensure the resources existed for students to researh a topic. She had started to have students research the history of their own houses and to locate the oldest houses in town and create brief histories of them. Unfortunately, a fire had destroyed most of the records needed for such a project.

She also advised teachers to seek out mentor teachers who’ve done such work before, to contact people in the community and at such agencies as the Historical Society who might be able to help, to make out outline of what is to be accomplished and what will be needed to accomplish it, and to create a timeline of the steps necessary and when they should be taken.

Mary Kohnstamm, Jana Rozar, and Ann Danczyk with Jacob Fern (not shown) read excerpts from the history of Whitefish they researched and wrote, tracing the towns development from “Stumptown” to ski resort. The freshmen class in Whitefish, guided by English teacher Beth Beaulieu, created a history book of the town and presented excerpts at a community Heritage Evening. This was Whitefish’s first year in the project, and Beth detailed the planning and implementation of the project. The emphasis was upon analyzing the information that was found, using local history to practice high-level thinking skills.

Shawnee Norick joined fellow Chester students Isaac Van Dyk and Bryce Fenger to give an overview of the seven-week community self study they completed.

The project was modelled on the Montana Study from the 1940s. Community leaders joined the students in researching and discussing their community, it’s role in the state, nation, and world, and it’s prospects for the future.

The project was led by English teacher Renee Rasmussen. After the study, some community leaders suggested this was a project that should be repeated with high school students every year.  In a way, it’s a return to an idea about education older than the institution building of recent decades that has often created great distances between the community and the school: the leaders of the community get involved in the schools not merely through the political and budget processes, but by direct and personal involvement with the youth, teaching directly some of the things they think are important.

In March, some of these teachers will present again at the regional National Council of Teachers of English conference in Lewiston, Idaho.

We are already making plans for next year’s MEA-AFT Conference, which will be held in Missoula in October, 2005.

Posted by Michael L Umphrey on 10/22 at 09:32 PM
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© 2004 Montana Heritage Project

Sunday, October 17, 2004

“Caught between two worlds, one dead, the other struggling to be born.”
   Chester High School

Visiting Montana’s Hi-Line on the northern Great Plains brought to mind Matthew Arnold’s line about the rapid industrialization of Nineteenth Century England. The world changing dramatically. New possibilities were emerging but important continuities were snapping.

Along the Hi-line today, everywhere one sees the abandoned and neglected traces of a world that is passing--a country of small homesteads and small communities, organized around the Great Northern Railroad that gave family farms access to markets as well as to the manufactured goods of a booming industrial nation. The homestead boom early in the twentieth century was part of the Progressive Era, a forward looking period when faith in the future was a cultural norm.

The forces Arnold witnessed continue apace through great tracts of the Great Plains. Some of the young people I’ve talked to in Montana recently are aware that they live in a wonderful place where the natural world is stunningly beautiful and uncrowded and yet, because of modern transportation and communication, they don’t suffer the isolation of earlier generations in this place. They don’t remember a world in which rural people rode horses to country dances. They don’t even remember a world without the internet.

But they know life at this moment is mighty good, and the world out here feels young, full of possibility. It’s a good place for youth, and we may yet be amazed by what they make of it.

It is still, after all, the American West.

When homes are abandoned on the Great Plains, the buildings aren’t often torn down to make room for new development. Usually they are turned to simpler uses--to store a bit of hay or grain or to provide shade and shelter to cattle. In the dry climate, they deteriorate slowly, inviting passers-by to wonder whose labor built them and how life came to feel to those unseen people, once young, who have long since moved on.

Abandoned stores still stand in nearly abandoned communities, such as Galata, a few miles west of Chester. Advances in the built environment, such as improved irrigation and telecommunications systems, are less picturesque and easier to miss.

Chester today has a robust sense of community as well as good information connectivity to the rest of the world. It’s a relatively properous place, and since it’s too far from larger towns to be a bedroom community people there turn to the town for their goods and to each other for their social needs. It is large enough to provide commonly needed goods but small enough that everyone is known. Surrounded by wheat fields and within hailing distance of the Sweetgrass Hills, it’s a place where people live intimately withlandscape and weather.

Posted by Michael L Umphrey on 10/17 at 01:31 AM
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© 2004 Montana Heritage Project

Heirlooms, Chester students connect with family history - Part 1
   Chester High School

The first impression one gets in listening to Renee Rasmussen’s students talk about the family heirlooms they’ve brought to school is the solidity of family life here. The students talk knowledgably about grandparents and great-grandparents. Some of the students’ families have been in place in this community for five generations.

She has asked students to bring an object from home that has significance for the family. Many of the students acknowledged that they hadn’t known the stories that went with the objects they brought until the assignment served as a catalyst for family conversation and interviews of parents and grandparents.

Michael Wood brought a hat from each business his grandfather owned or managed, including “Hi-Line Farms” and “Hi-Line Chemical Company.” Renee: “Why didn’t your grandfather farm?” “Because he likes to help other people with their farms.”

Michael’s family ranches in the Sweetgrass Hills.

A teacup of bone china that a grandfather bought in London while there with the Air Force during world War II. . .

Tara Balsley shows a pocket watch her great-great-grandfather traded a pig for. Though it still works, her grandfather quit using it and put it away. Renee: “How does an object go from being in every day use to being put away? Why are some ojects ‘special’ from the start, but others attain that status at some point?”

The antler of a moose shot by a grandfather. In 1994, the antler received a carving of an eagle. “Our whole family are hunters.”

Ashley Martin brought a homemade keepsake box made by a great-great-great-grandmother as a Christmas gift for her granddaughter in 1910. It is a cardboard box decorated with sea shells. “I didn’t know anything about this until I had this assignment.”

Posted by Michael L Umphrey on 10/17 at 01:16 AM
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© 2004 Montana Heritage Project

Heirlooms: Chester students connect with family history, Part 2
   Chester High School

Small rural towns and Indian reservations may be the only places in America where the newest and costliest buildings are those owned by the federal government. Montana has it’s share of towns where the Post Office is the only building that appears to have built in the last twenty years. This is the U.S. Department of Agriculture Service Center for the Liberty County Conservation District.

Joanna LaSorte shows a photo that includes her great-great-grandmother on her mother’s side. She brought a butter former she had owned. Joanna is the fifth generation of her family to live in the Chester area (her family originally homesteaded in the Sweetgrass Hills). Another student in the class has a great-grandmother who was a sister of Joanna’s great-grandmother.

Keyla Wendland wears a diamond ring which is one of three rings made from a three-diamond ring owned by great-grandma Sadie. Sadie arrived in Montana on a steamboat from St. Louis and became a millner in Fort Benton. She married a man who rode a dogsled down from Canada. After they had three daughters, a man showed up in limousine, wearing a tuxedo. The three daughters spied on this from the barn. The man gave Sadie a small gift. Afterwards, the girls tried to get their mother to tell them what it was all about, but she refused. Later, they sneaked into her room and found the gift. A ring with three diamonds.

“She went to her grave with saying a word about it.”

After Sadie’s death, her daughters had three rings made, each with diamond from the original ring.

Renee: “Did people once keep more secrets or keep secrets better than people today? Why do we live in such a ‘tell all’ culture?”

Mary DeVries brought a gold nugget from Alaska, discovered on a honeymoon trip. . .

Lewis Johnson shows a Winchester semi-automatic shotgun he inherited from Grandpa Johnson, who once ran a hardware store in Wilco, Kansas. 

Posted by Michael L Umphrey on 10/17 at 01:07 AM
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© 2004 Montana Heritage Project

Heirlooms: Chester students connect with family history, Part 3
   Chester High School

Where are the boundaries that define “us”? How do they get established? How do they change? How far toward Joplin would someone need to live before they quit being “us” and start becoming “them.” What other boundaries affect our perception of how big “our” place is? School and fire district boundaries? Church attendance patterns?

Though the higway department erects simple green signs telling travelers the name of the town they are entering, many towns erect their own signs facing outward at their boundaries, announcing something about themselves that at least some group in town deems important to their identity. Sports accomplishments are often touted on these signs, probably because it’s easy to get people to agree these are noteworthy accomplishments. Some places, though, announce more individual accomplishments. St. Ignatius, for example, announces that it is the home of Tim Ryan, a country music singer of some renown.

How does your town mark its boundaries or present itself to travelers?

A book about the Belle Grove Plantation in the Shenandoah Valley in Virginia, which was where the family lived before moving to Montana. This student brought a spoon owned by great-aunt Delores, which was part of the silver used at that plantation

Carly Weinert brought her mother’s wedding brooch. . .

A great-uncle’s bugle from the Canadian army. . .

A ring. . .

Renee notes that this project gets some students in touch with their families’ values. Also, in many cases the history of an object is not attached to the object--it exists only as oral history. At the end of the unit, each piece will have a written history. This serves as an introduction to research and writing.

Posted by Michael L Umphrey on 10/17 at 12:48 AM
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© 2004 Montana Heritage Project

Saturday, October 16, 2004

Part 1-Getting the story: the 1984 Houghton Creek Fire
   Libby High School

Twenty years ago the hot winds of August blew across smoldering coals from a two-week-old lightning strike and set ablaze one of the worst fires in the memory of Libby residents. The Houghton Creek Fire consumed some 12,000 acres in a matter of hours. It was only one of 643 fires in Montana that year, but it was one of the most spectacular.

Gene Yahvah worked the first 48 hours of that blaze in 1984 after having already put in a normal 8-hour shift.

On a brilliant October day (October 13, 2004) he met students from Jeff Gruber’s history classes to tell them what had happened, what people had done, and what it had meant to him.

Today, driving to Libby from Kalispell, one passes through the burn. It does give an inattentive observer the feeling of moving through a vast clearcut. Salvage logging began before the mop up crews had left the fire scene, so the stumps and old skid trails provide clear evidence that the site has been logged. But closer inspection reveals the blackened stumps, which are clear evidence of fire. Other major fires in the area occurred in 1890 and in 1910.


Gene stands with Billy Fritz Pass and Wapati Mountain in the background at the site featured in a 1990 Sierra Club book, Clearcut: the Tragedy of Industrial Forestry. The book used a photo of the Houghton Creek fire to illustrate its claims about Champion’s clearcutting practices. According to Gene, he was dismayed to see the photo and to read the claims that Champion had clear-cut its 800,000 acres of Montana forest. He said it’s painful “to be in the area working for 30-40 years and see such a complete misrepresentation” because he knew “how much blood and guts” he and others had put into growing the forest after the wildfire. On Labor Day weekend after the fire, he said that Tag Edwards, Vice-President of Champion, flew to Libby from New York to examine the damage. “Gene, I promise you all the money you need to regenerate this forest,” he said.

The display board Gene has made shows the 1990 photo published by Sierra Club on top, a 1994 photo in the middle and a 2000 photo on the bottom. For Gene, the story is not one of corporate greed but of corporate investment in regeneration.

Gene also believes clearcutting sometimes is a good management tool. He cited the case of replacing a White Bark pine stand with a new strain that is resistant to pine beetle infestations.


Students were given 15 minutes to work on their field notes at the final stop of the day.


Gene repeatedly helped students to see the mountains more carefully, especially the way the various aspects of slope affected the forests. He has replanted Wapati Mountain three times trying to get the forest started again. This has worked best in the saddle, where shade and snow accumulation create more favorable conditions than on the open slopes.


The last minutes of the trip provoked a frenzy of notetaking, which is a good indicator that the trip will linger in the minds of students.


Catching the documentary spirit, a couple of the students wanted their photo taken with Gene. Beauty.

Students who choose to work on the Houghton Fire project will divided into five teams to deal with such topics as the pre-fire conditions, the fight against the blaze, and the aftermath. They will present their story to the community at a public event later in the year.

Posted by Michael L Umphrey on 10/16 at 12:59 AM
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© 2004 Montana Heritage Project

Part 2-Where someday an old forest may stand once again
   Libby High School

Thirty million board feet of lumber were lost during the Houghton Creek fire, much of it in stands that Gene Yahwah had been nurturing through thinning and light burning for decades. He had been the forest manager on the Raven Block since 1961. After the fire, he continued reseeding and replanting efforts until his retirement in 1988. These efforts began before the fires had even cooled. “This area will be a show piece some day,” he said at the time. Over the years since then, many groups have toured the site to see how the forest has regenerated in part due to thousands of hours of labor by dedicated foresters.


Jeff Gruber is one of the Montana Heritage Project’s founding teachers. He’s been directing a demonstration site in Libby since 1995, the Project’s first year. He has been joined from time to time by other staff members, notably Gene Reckin, Bob Malyevac, Rose Goyen, and John England. On the day of the Houghton Creek expedition, Jeff modeled a proper Heritage Project fashion sense, wearing his expedition vest and bringing a camera and notebook. The heart of an expedition is the aim of bringing back knowledge and documentation.


Gene led the students on a nature trail through the woods surrounding the Raven Ranger station. The 1984 fire burned all around the station, which had been the base camp for the original fire two weeks before the blow-up, but it was abandoned during the main blaze. Today the station exists in an island of old-growth mixed conifer forest surrounded by a twenty-year-old trees. The trail provides good views of the young forest and how well or poorly it is regenerating on the surrounding hills with various aspects.


Across the highway from Raven, the patch of bare hillside is land that Champion International Corporation did not own and that has not received the intensive regeneration that other areas have seen. It remains nearly bare of trees, the intangible lines of property ownership made manifest on the landscape.


Gene brought two brown paper grocery bags full of apples he picked from his trees for the kids. Here NAME enjoys a Golden Delicious during lunch at the Raven Ranger Station. Raven, about 15 miles east of Libby, is being restored by the Forest Service to the way it was circa 1930-1940. It is a popular site for nature classes by various groups in the Libby area.


An exchange student from Denmark took careful notes throughout the day. On the ride back to town, she began the work of converting her jottings into more finished field notes, which she shared with Jeff before the trip was over. Few things are more beautiful than young people turning their attention to learning and to increasing their intellectual powers. To let others see us learn, we have to open ourselves to them a bit, letting them see us not knowing. We need to be humble and open in those ways that best let us build relationships with each other. Most of Jeff’s students seemed more interested in learning than in being “cool”. They were very enjoyable young people led by a master teacher.

Posted by Michael L Umphrey on 10/16 at 12:04 AM
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© 2004 Montana Heritage Project

Friday, October 15, 2004

Part 3-Revisiting the Houghton Creek Fire
   Libby High School

The Houghton Creek Fire was started by a lightning strike on logging slash on August 15, 1984. It was during a red flag alert, which is the most severe fire weather condition. The woods were dry, the air was hot, and thirty mile per hour winds were gusting to fifty miles per hour. The fire blew up on August 27 at about 4 pm and by midnight it had consumed 10,000 acres, burning a swath five miles wide in places.

At the time, 16 other major fires in Montana were out of control. During the last two weeks in August, 644 fires burned 250,000 acres of forest. Though resources were stretched thin, about 1800 fire fighters were sent to the Libby fire, including 300 volunteers from Libby and Kalispell.


Retired forester Gene Yahvah and teacher Jeff Gruber (right) gather students in the morning fog near the spot where the fire started. The 41 freshmen who made the trip had to choose to be there. The sense of adventure in the brisk morning air with huddled friends in the early morning dark will likely leave the students with memories and understandings more durable and more valuable than most of what their friends back at the fluorescent-lit school will acquire.


The way the world ought to be and sometimes is: kids in Libby grow up in a spectacular landscape. They can better appreciate it by spending time with elders, such as Gene, who have worked and studied for decades to understand that landscape. A recurring theme of his talk was how much the history of a place leaves traces on the land that can be readily read by an observant visitor. Students could be seen gazing at various spots in the woods, trying to see evidence of fire and of thinning, whether sites were replanted by hand or by natural means, or whether forests were mixed age or same age plots.


Students in Jeff’s class have been taught a three-stage note-taking process: first, they make jottings in the field as they listen and observe; later the same day, they transform these jottings into more complete field notes; and, finally, they draw on the field notes as they write finished papers and presentations.

The students asked intelligent questions, aiming at a detailed understanding of what had happened twenty years ago and what it meant for today.


Seed trees: some of the sites were reseeded by natural means. Foresters selected 6-8 large and genetically superior trees per acre and allowed their seed to regenerate a young forest around them. The beautiful Western Larch, which turns gold and loses its needles each October, are prized for plywood.


The school bus is a quite wonderful though under-used educational technology. Being able to move a group of forty students together through the landscape, stopping whenever seems good, enables us to make the world our classroom.

The danger, of course, is that we can thus make the world seem as uninspiring as a poorly prepared lecture on photosynthesis. To avoid that, we need to plan carefully, and we need to allow students to meet some of their own purposes with what they learn. Jeff’s students will decide what they are going to say to the community and how they will present it at a public program later in the year.

This was a beautiful day, in many ways. One of things I’ve learned watching Jeff and other Heritage Project teachers is the role of beauty in teaching. The best scientists know that beauty and elegance are crucial to developing sound scientific theory. They are important enough that beauty sometimes serves as a guide when things get too complex for the intellect. Some scientists believe that it’s better to achieve elegance even if the theory then doesn’t quite fit all the known facts. It may be more likely that the facts contain measurement errors or other abnormalities than that an inelegant solution is true.

Though beautiful and elegant theories can be wrong, ugly and complicated one are almost certainly incomplete if not outright wrong. At best they are momentary stays on the way toward something better.

We could use more of that understanding in education. We have too many ugly and klutzy solutions in schools and too little striving for breathtaking beauty. 

Posted by Michael L Umphrey on 10/15 at 12:08 AM
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© 2004 Montana Heritage Project
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