A Narrative History of the Montana Heritage Project

Accomplishing something “rather important” in Liberty County

Renee Rasmussen

Chester High School


The contributions of the Heritage Project toward a better understanding of local and state history was recognized when two Chester High School seniors were invited to help with a day-long workshop at the annual Montana History Conference. A packed room of Montana historic preservation advocates along with staff from the National Trust for Historic Preservation, listened as Bryan Ghekiere and Andrew Thorness described the Chester students’ research into a 1917 basta brick house built by Estonian homesteaders and their efforts to have the building placed on the National Register of Historic Places.

For the second year, Renee Rasmussen’s junior English class prepared a column for the Liberty County Times entitled “This Week in Local History.” Students located historical news items that complemented current issues, such as fund-raising for a swimming pool, dealing with drought, and putting family ranches on the market. Each week the column identified the contributing student and the sources that he or she used. Among other sources, all of the students used research done by Renee’s previous classes. In writing these columns, students quickly became familiar with a wide variety of research material.

Each students also researched a family heirloom and a specific historic building or place. Renata Munfrada found the heirloom research a valuable experience. “As I talked with my mom and my grandma about this little silver jewel,” she said, “the conversation became much more than just a part of a homework assignment. I spent time with them and we discussed our family, where we came from, who we are, and what we stand for.”

Teams of students also researched and wrote Essays of Place (http://www.edheritage.org/tools/essayplace/essayplace.htm). Mitchell Clark thought that one of the most important parts of his research paper was including the bibliographies. They helped him realize, “how important it really is to show which sources were used. Without reliable sources nothing could be trusted as fact. It is also important because without including a bibliography page the researchers that worked on the material before would receive no credit for their hard work.”

Other student teams designed and uploaded newly researched or written material for Chester’s website (http://www.folkways.org/Chester/). They did quite a lot of work on, among other things, a Chester timeline which begins at 1900 and ends with the seventies. They included quite a few photos and student research papers on a variety of topics for each decade.

Through his research into Chester in 1910, Mitch Violett went from being indifferent to his heritage to becoming an eager researcher. “Before this paper, I could not have cared less about my family heritage and how the Chester community began,” he said. “But the more I began to research and the more I studied that period of time, the more interested I became and the more I wanted to find out.”

All of Renee’s nineteen juniors seemed to have learned valuable things during the year. Shyann Norick learned that it’s “important for people to record what they find because one can never be sure what will be essential in the future.” Courtney Fraser said, “I learned that the people in our community have great memories to share. What they were missing until the Montana Heritage Project came along was someone who was willing to listen.” And Amanda Hofer found that all of her work was worthwhile: “I realized that after I finished this paper I had accomplished something rather important.”
Future researchers will probably agree.

To print a final report for the year-end binder, click here.
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© 2003 Montana Heritage Project
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