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January 15, 2015

Origins of the Perham library

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The Perham Area Public Library was started in 1922 by the Women’s Club of Perham. It opened to the public in the old City Hall with a mere handful of books.

The committee that worked on the plan consisted of Bernie Kemper, Superintendent Randolph, Dr. Juergens, Mrs. Casper Lotterer, Mrs. Harry Davis, Mrs. Ben Esser, Mrs. A. Schwarzrock, Flora McDonald, and Anne Pancratz.

In the late 1920s, when the Burelbach Post of the American Legion thought of buying the Episcopal Church for a meeting place, they proposed that the building also be used as a library. As long as the post existed, the members would have the right to meet in the building. (This is why the library was always closed on Thursdays.)

Submitted photo. Built as the Episcopal Church of the Redeemer in 1887, this historic stone structure housed the Perham Area Public Library for many years

So the Legion purchased the remarkable stone building from J.B. Miller and Grant Woodard. It had been built in 1887 by a Scottish stonemason, Nathaniel McConachie, and used for only a few years as an Episcopal church before various disagreements split up the congregation and many members joined the Methodist Church, which became known as the Methodist Episcopal Church.

In 1939, Dr. Frank Brabec proposed that a community hall be added to the building. The city of Perham had to own the building in order to get a grant, so the city bought it from the Legion.

The library suffered through many lean years. Fundraisers kept it going, but buying books and materials on $350 a year was impossible, so when Royale Arvig became mayor, the library received $150 a month and the librarian rejoiced.

Dozens of volunteers worked at the library, giving a financial assist to the city. Catherine Drahmann, the librarian for many years, provided countless hours of volunteer time. Mrs. Al Schoeneberger was the cataloguer for 50 years, at no charge.

In 1978, the library became a member of the Viking Library System, which helped to improve financing. It also helped to provide patrons with many services besides books. Movies, audio books, CDs, a copier, magazines, fax machine, computers and more have since become available to the public.

Circulation (the number of items borrowed by patrons in a year) grew from 6,800 in 1970 to 63,000 in 1993. In 1984, the community hall was renovated and the library, which was suffering from lack of space, expanded into that side of the building.

In 1978, Catherine Drahmann became the first paid librarian. By 1994, there were two assistant librarians, Mary Jane Coates and Helene Pettit, and a summer librarian, Marie Doll. Those on the Service Board of Volunteers included Vera Bigler, Mary Helen Zitzow, Helen Lindberg, Jan Bennison, Marie Doll, Elsie Christie, Mary Holper, Audrey Johnson, Jeanette Kupferschmid, Becky Stolee, Joan Happel, Martha Lehmkuhl and Jeanne Schoeneberger.

The Executive Board consisted of Jeanette Kupferschmid – President, Vera Bigler – Vice President, Elsie Christie – Secretary, Jan Bennison – Past President, Mary Holper – Member-at-Large, Helen Lindberg – Member-at-Large and Lina Belar – Viking Library

Information for this article came from the “East Otter Tail History Book, Volume II, 1994” as submitted by Catherine Drahmann. Lina Belar is the founder and retired director of the Friends of the History Museum of East Otter Tail County.


January 7, 2015

Train wrecks are part of Perham’s history

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The Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railroad line through Perham has been an economic lifeline for the community ever since it was finished in 1872.

Tens of thousands of trains have gone through Perham in the last 143 years. Typically, they come and go with little notice, other than their loud horns and by tying up the traffic at crossings.

On at least three occasions, however, they haven’t made it through town because wrecks have occurred. One was in the early 1940s and another occurred in 1947, when two trains hit head-on in a snowstorm. But the train wreck of Oct. 1, 1992 was undoubtedly the most spectacular.

At that time, an eastbound BNSF freight train was just approaching the edge of Perham when a semi-trailer apparently fell off one of the cars. As it fell, it either struck a switch or got wedged under the train, causing a derailment to begin near the Holiday Station, about four blocks west of the stoplights.

Car after car derailed from the train, which was doing about 60 miles per hour at the time. As they derailed, they slid and tumbled toward the heart of the downtown area, threatening businesses such as Crane Johnson Lumber, the Perham City Offices, Strom’s Cafe, Ma’s Little Red Barn, Coast to Coast, Ace Hardware and others. Fortunately, one of the cars hit the loading dock at the Burlington Northern depot and came to a halt. That acted as a stopper for the rest of the cars, so instead of sliding, they began piling up.

When the train finally stopped, most of the 31 derailed cars were in a huge mound stretching westward about a block from the depot. Other than the depot building, which was wrecked, the only other structural damage was to a loading shed. Some adjacent vehicles were damaged or wrecked, one squished down to about two feet thick.

Submitted photo The BNSF train depot in Perham, in 1956. The depot was ruined in a train wreck in 1992.

One of the most incredible aspects of the accident is that there were no major injuries, despite the fact that it occurred at about 5:30 p.m. on a Thursday afternoon.

There were a number of eye-witnesses to the event. Some people got pinged by flying rocks or shards from railroad ties, but there were no serious injuries. The town was lucky in another regard, too, because the train also had at least two cars with hazardous materials, one loaded with molten sulfur and another with propane. They were both behind the 31 cars that derailed and weren’t a factor in the wreck.

Cleanup crews hustled to Perham to get the mess cleaned up as quickly as possible and to get the railroad line open again. The westbound lane was re-opened 37 hours later, and the eastbound lane eight hours after that.

Information for this article came from “East Otter Tail History Book, Volume II, 1994.” Lina Belar is the founder and retired director of the Friends of the History Museum of East Otter Tail County.


December 18, 2014

Perham’s ‘all girl’ precision cycle drill team

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From 1983 to 1992, Perham had the distinction of having the only ‘all girl’ precision cycle drill team to be found anywhere. The original idea came from Rick Tommervik, a local music teacher, who saw the red scooters at a cycle dealership. He mentioned them to Bob Kinlund, a friend who worked at Barrel O’ Fun, and things began to roll.

A drill team was formed, and for 10 years they traveled to parades and local celebrations throughout Minnesota, North and South Dakota and Wisconsin. The group was composed of girls from seventh through 12th grades and included members from surrounding high schools.

Over the years, the group made 35 to 90 appearances per year, making about 600 in its 10-year life, and was seen by an estimated two to three million people. Slightly over 100 young ladies participated in the program.

The group was originally called the Barrel O’ Fun Chippettes, using the theme from the then-popular TV show “Chips.” The name also reflected a natural tie to the type of product made by Barrel O’ Fun. The members of the drill team wore police-style uniforms and used a military type of discipline in their performances.

After four years, Barrel O’ Fun’s new owners elected to drop the program, but the group continued to operate on its own thanks to the support of several businessmen. Then, the Perham Chamber of Commerce, under the leadership of Tom Winjum, stepped forward to sponsor the group and re-named it the “Perham Escort Patrol.”

The group continued to travel throughout the area. It operated as a summer youth program and was used to promote the Perham area, becoming known as “Perham’s Traveling Ambassadors.” Doug Eckes became the Escort Patrol Chairman and he, along with two or three adult supervisors, ran the group through 1992.

The funding necessary to keep the group going was possible only through excellent local support. Groups such as the Perham Lions Club, VFW Post, Jaycees, and Athletic Association contributed money, equipment and manpower while hundreds of local residents gave support through fundraisers, breakfasts and raffles.

Submitted photo
Bob Kinlund, far right, makes sure all the Barrel O’ Fun Chippettes are ready before they go into their cycle routine at a performance in the mid-1980s.

Information for this article came an article submitted by Bob Kinlund for the “East Otter Tail History Book, Volume II, 1994.” Lina Belar is the founder and retired director of the Friends of the History Museum of East Otter Tail County.


December 11, 2014

The history of Zion United Church of Christ

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The Zion Church was organized in 1890 by a group of men and women living in and around Perham. The congregation first met in what was known as Lange’s schoolhouse.

The Reverend S. Spahr was the first pastor. Two years later, the group decided to build a church. The first services were held in the church on Thanksgiving Day 1893.

The church enjoyed a steady growth and soon joined the Evangelical Synod of North America. This union had united the Reform and Lutheran faiths in one body. Its members had migrated to America in the 1800s, first settling in the Midwest, particularly Missouri, Illinois and Wisconsin.

This Evangelical body then joined with the Reformed Church in the United States, whose members had migrated in the early 1700s from the Rhine country of Central Europe, first settling on the eastern seaboard, particularly Pennsylvania. They took a middle ground between extreme Lutherans and extreme Calvinists.

In 1934, these two denominations, the Evangelical Synod of North America and the Reformed Church in the United States, united to form a new body, the Evangelical and Reformed Church.

In 1957, the Evangelical and Reformed Church merged with the Congregational and Christian Churches and became part of the Minnesota Conference of the United Church of Christ. The name of the Zion Church in Perham was changed to Zion United Church of Christ.

Until 1922, the services of Zion Church were in German. At that time, the Reverend J. Mau started holding services in both English and German. This continued until 1945, when the German services were discontinued.

Information for this article came from the “East Otter Tail History Book, Volume II, 1994.” Lina Belar is the founder and retired director of the Friends of the History Museum of East Otter Tail County. 

Submitted photo
Zion United Church of Christ in Perham, pictured in 1971.


December 4, 2014

‘A date which will live in infamy’

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Nearly three-quarters of a century have passed since that day when the bombing of Pearl Harbor signaled the end of America’s bystander status in World War II and imprinted on the nation’s consciousness “a date which will live in infamy” – Dec. 7.

Since then, the United States has become embroiled in a number of global conflicts and experienced other infamous days: the assassination of President Kennedy and the destruction of New York City’s Twin Towers on 9-11, to name two. Each event has had a major impact on the way we perceive our world, but perhaps none have had as much personal connection to so many people as the events surrounding World War II.

In the Perham area alone, hundreds of men and women were involved in that global conflict, and more than two dozen were killed in action.

On the morning of Dec. 7, 1941, the Imperial Japanese Navy attacked the United States naval base at Pearl Harbor, a lagoon harbor on the island of Oahu, Hawaii.

The attack was a surprise military strike intended to deter the U.S. Pacific Fleet from interfering with military actions that the Empire of Japan was planning in Southeast Asia.

The base was attacked by 353 fighter planes, bombers, and torpedo planes in two waves, launched from six aircraft carriers. All eight U.S. Navy battleships were damaged, four sunk. In total, 2,403 Americans were killed and 1,178 others were wounded.

Two of those who lost their lives in the bombing of Pearl Harbor were from Perham.

George Rasmussen enlisted in the Navy in 1941. He was assigned to the U.S.S. Arizona, where he was a welder. Rasmussen was scheduled to begin a leave of absence on Dec. 7 in order to meet his parents and wife.

Joseph Schedowski also enlisted in the U.S. Navy in 1941 and was assigned to the U.S.S. Arizona, where he was a fireman.

Both George and Joseph were killed, along with their crews, in the attack on Pearl Harbor.

Several weeks later, on Dec. 25, a notice appeared in the Perham newspaper. The headline simply said, “Two Perham Boys Missing at Pearl Harbor.”

The attack on Pearl Harbor was a profound shock to the American people and led directly to U.S. entry into World War II in both the Pacific and European theaters. The following day, Dec. 8, the United States declared war on Japan. Three days later, Germany and Italy declared war on the U.S., an action that was promptly reciprocated.

There had been historical precedents for unannounced military action, but the lack of any formal warning, particularly while negotiations were still apparently ongoing, led President Franklin D. Roosevelt to proclaim Dec. 7, 1941, “a date which will live in infamy.”

The Perham VFW 4020 is honorably named after George Rasmussen and Joseph Schedowski.

Information for this article came from a November 1995 supplement to the Enterprise-Bulletin compiled by Bill Schoeneberger. Lina Belar is the founder and retired director of the Friends of the History Museum of East Otter Tail County. 


November 20, 2014

The history of a successful team: Perham girls basketball

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The first girls basketball team at Perham Public Schools began in the fall of 1969.

Meryl Gisselquist was the coach. The team was made up of six players, with a ‘roving’ guard who could travel the entire court. That first season, the team played only seven games.

The next year, Ruth Cole took over the coaching position. Sometime during the 1970s, the game changed to five-player basketball. The girls improved steadily, and in 1972 they had their first winning season, with a record of 10 and five. The following year, the team tied with Dilworth and Frazee for the Heart O’Lakes Conference championship.

Perham went on in the following two years to be undefeated Conference Champions. The girls placed third, fourth, and second in the first three District 23 tournaments held in the fall of 1972, ‘73 and ‘74.

In 1975-76, the girl’s season moved to winter instead of fall. In addition to winning the Heart O’Lakes Conference, they also won the District 23 title for the first time ever.

The next year, Tony Bjork took over the head coaching job and led the team to eight consecutive winning seasons, including four District 23 Championships, three runner-ups and one third place. When Coach Bjork retired after the 1984 season, the girls had had 122 wins and 45 losses.

The next three years, the team was coached by Deb Meyer, with the girls finishing second in District 23 for two of those years. In 1988, Darrel Pederson came on board, and their success that year included a 22-3 record.

In 1991, the Perham team made history by being the first girls basketball team to ever qualify for the State Tournament. The team that year had a 25-4 record and defeated Osakis for the Region 6 Championship. The team went on to capture fourth place in the State Tournament.

Information for this article came from the “1994 East Otter Tail History Book, Volume II.” Lina Belar is the founder and retired director of the Friends of the History Museum of East Otter Tail County. 


November 13, 2014

Welter brothers’ stores are a part of Perham’s history

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The decade of the 1920s saw much business activity on Main Street in Perham. One of the busiest spots was the Welter Brothers Grocery and Meat Market, operated by the Welter brothers, Ambrose and William.

Daily, even hourly, delivery service was an important part of the business. After a damaging fire, the store was moved across the street to the southwest corner of Main and First Avenue.

In a few years, the business was moved again. This time, Welter Brothers Hardware opened in the location where Nadine’s now does business. In the meantime, Welter had begun a new enterprise and added a huge turkey farm east of Perham on Highway 10.

Both the turkey farm and the hardware store did very well. However, in 1966 Ambrose became ill with cancer. The business was then sold to a buyer from Detroit Lakes.

After four decades in business, Welter Brothers became a part of Perham’s past history.

Information for this article was submitted by Agnes Welter for the “1994 East Otter Tail History Book, Volume II”. Lina Belar is the founder and retired director of the Friends of the History Museum of East Otter Tail County. 


October 16, 2014

The start of the Comet Theater

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The Comet Theater began when Roy and Viola Rasmussen bought the J.C. Penny Store Building.

Remodeling began in June 1937 by the contractor Al Wassner. The project also involved Charles Olson and Rudy Doll as electricians. Olson alone did 245 hours of wiring, at about 35-50 cents per hour. The theater was complete in the middle of July 1937, with the first showing on July 26.

Olson operated the projector. The Comet Theater seated about 300 people and showed features seven days a week for an admission charge of 25 cents.

There was another theater in Perham at the time, across the street from the Comet. It was called the Lux Theater and it was run by Oscar Weickert. The Lux Theater sound system was on a disc, while the Comet Theater sound system was on film.

The Rasmussens operated the Comet until their deaths in the early 1970s. The theater was then sold to Tuffy Nelson, who operated it with the help of Tom and Mary Alstadt.

Joe and Delores Wasche bought the Comet in April 1972, and it is still under their ownership.

In 1988, the theater was remodeled with furnishings that had been bought from the Carlton Club in Bloomington, bringing some classy décor to the theater.

By 1994, the Comet had gone from two projectors to one. It was lighted with a 1,000 watt bulb and used a large platter that took care of the whole movie without the necessity of changing projectors.

Today, the Comet Theater continues to show movies using more modern technologies.

Information for this article was submitted by Joe Wasche for the “1994 East Otter Tail History Book, Volume II.”

Lina Belar is the founder and retired director of the Friends of the History Museum of East Otter Tail County.


October 9, 2014

Emergency services in Perham’s early days

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Ambulance service in the Perham area was originally provided by Schoeneberger Funeral Home, which used a hearse to transport patients to the hospital. As national and state regulations were established, Schoeneberger’s found it financially impossible to continue in that role.

In April 1968, the Perham Rescue Association was formed, and members of the Perham Volunteer Fire Department were asked to staff the ambulance. Initially, they were reluctant and vetoed the idea, but finally agreed to accept the responsibility on a temporary basis until other help could be found.

Original training consisted of only a few hours of basic first aid, with the main emphasis on rushing the victim to the hospital for treatment as fast as possible. At first, a modified Cadillac station wagon was used as the transport vehicle. The first van-type ambulance was purchased in 1973.

For many years, ambulance and first calls were received and dispatched from the Co-op Service Station, which was open 24 hours a day. In 1979, the base station was moved to the Perham Memorial Hospital.

The first Emergency Medical Technicians on the department were trained in 1976. Their instruction consisted of more than 100 hours of training, with the emphasis switching from rapid transport to stabilizing the victims at the scene; they also learned how to use basic equipment during transport.

Over the years, pre-hospital emergency saw rapid improvement and development. Equipment training and regulations became increasingly more demanding. In 1990, the Rescue Association formed an ambulance department separate from the fire department, whose ‘temporary’ service had extended 23 years.

The association entered into an agreement with the Perham Memorial Hospital for management services, and the Perham Area E.M.S. was formed. By 1994, paramedic personnel were required by have 1,000 hours of training.

Today, the emphasis is on advanced treatment, essentially bringing the emergency room to the victim, rather than waiting for the victim to arrive at the emergency room.

Information for this article was submitted by Randy Grover for the “East Otter Tail History Book, Volume II.” Lina Belar is the founder and retired director of the Friends of the History Museum of East Otter Tail County.


October 2, 2014

Prohibition came early to East Otter Tail County

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Prohibition started early in the cities and towns of East Otter Tail County because they were located near what was then called the Indian Territories.

It was decided by the forces in Washington, D.C., that any area within a certain number of miles of the territories (supposedly the distance a real alcoholic would go to get a drink) would be declared dry. In the early part of the century, agents visited one town after another until the whole county went ‘dry.’ A perusal of newspapers from the early days can trace the progress of the agents as saloons in one town after another were shut down.

There was a saloon in Luce, just up the road from Perham, called “The First and Last Chance Saloon.” It received its name from the people coming from the west, as it was their first chance to buy liquor since Frazee was part of an Indian reservation. For those that came from the east, it was their last chance to buy liquor, as they would soon enter the reservation. By the time prohibition took place throughout the nation, one local journalist wrote that it was about time, as by then they were “plumb lonely for company.”

The popular notion of prohibition as depicted by the entertainment industry is of a rollicking era filled with notorious gangsters. That may have been true in Chicago but in rural Minnesota, prohibition had a quieter side. First of all, prohibition was a law that was almost universally disliked and the good German and Scandinavian farmers weren’t about to change their way of life because of what they thought was a stupid law.

There was protection from above; a complex network of informants kept sellers of the forbidden product aware of the progress of the revenue agents as they moved through the territory. Perfectly ordinary people of the area simply ignored it.

There was one resort, just north of Perham, that was known to be a popular ‘watering place.’ It’s said that on Sunday mornings, a local judge was the first person in the place.

Prohibition had its darker side, as well, as told in this story of “Prohibition Days” from “East Otter Tail County History I, 1977”:

“In the prohibition days, Martin Huneby of Section 2 of Butler Township had a ‘Moonshine Still’ and used to carry some of the moonshine with him in his Model A Ford.

“One Sunday morning, about 2 a.m. July 30, 1933, Martin Huneby and Ole Salmela had a collision with their cars.

“Men by the name of Waino Kangas, Eno Kangas and Weirela were coming home from a dance in Wolf Lake in their Model A coupe with a rumble seat where two of the men rode. They came to the collision and stopped to see if they could be of assistance, but Huneby and Salmela were arguing as to who was to blame for the accident.

“The four men then drove off and Huneby said ‘those guys might be looking for my whiskey.’ He got his gun out of his car and fired twice, killing the two Kangas men. The driver, fearing for their lives, drove to Hillview and there called the authorities.

“One Waino Kangas was the son of Matt Kangas of Paddock Township and the other the son of Henry Kangas of Red Eye Township, Wadena.

“Huneby was hunted by the law, but was not found. Then, rather than give himself over to the law, Huneby committed suicide with a 44 revolver a few months later. His body was found in Sect. 2 of Butler Township by Albert DeClerk on Sept. 10, 1933, who was looking for a freshened cow.

“During the time that Huneby hid in the woods he was given food by someone, as there were newspapers found with food scraps on them. The name had been torn off the paper so as not to identify who brought him food.”

From information in the Perham Bulletin, and the “East Otter Tail County History Volume I, 1977.”

Lina Belar is the founder and retired director of the Friends of the History Museum of East Otter Tail County.