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Friday, March 17, 2017

More on Highway 10

1910 through 1930 was a transition period for Sherburne County
as can be seen with both automobiles and horse drawn wagons
in this photograph.  Only very gradually did pavement replace
dirt and gravel on the roads of the county.
With road construction season arriving, I wonder about the times of road construction before the big trucks and monstrous land movers.  I wonder about the construction of Highway 10 through Sherburne County.  Why did it happen?  How did it happen? When we explore the actual construction the true impact of Highway 10 becomes apparent.

Construction of Highway 10 in Elk River used “one of the biggest and latest improved concrete mixers and pavers in the state and it has the capacity of paving 600 feet a day,” the Sherburne County Star News reported.  Although small compared to modern equipment, the newspaper claimed the machines inspired crowds to gather each day and observe the work. 

Credit for Highway 10 and the benefits received by Sherburne County goes to the hard work of Highway Commissioner Charles Babcock.  Known as the “father of the Minnesota Highway system,” Babcock worked diligently to see that his native Sherburne County received significant benefits of the road system. 

With completion of the road through Elk River, the Star News summarized the benefits from the construction.  The newspaper claimed $425,000 had been spent on the project.  A census taken shortly after the highway opened showed in a one week span 10,000 automobiles traveled through Elk River.  The traffic numbers remain impressive in comparison to the number of automobiles, 849, in the county.


Highway 10 through Sherburne County significantly increased growth potential. The construction technology seems small.  Yet, the benefits to Sherburne County were immediate and they continue to roll through the county. 

Thursday, March 9, 2017

WAVES in Sherburne County

Recruitment poster for WAVES in
the United States Navy, circa 1944.
Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Services, the WAVES of World War Two, became an elite group of 81,000 women enlisted in the United States Navy in 1944 and 1945.  Minnesota had its share of WAVES.  Even closer to home, Frances Beck of Sherburne County served as a WAVE in a military specialty so top secret she couldn’t speak of it until 50 years after the war.  Francis Beck served as a code breaker against the Japanese. 

In the early 1940s Beck felt a passionate desire to serve.   She wanted to volunteer and do her part in the war effort, the navy, however, actively opposed women joining the service.  Finally, in 1944 Beck and 81,000 other women became WAVES.  “When I enlisted they said, “’Well you’re going to be in there until the war is over.’  I told them, ‘Well it can’t go on forever,” she recalled. 

The duration of Beck’s service lasted slightly longer than a year.  In that time she trained first at Hunter College in New York.  Hunter College was boot camp for the WAVES.  The Navy then sent Beck for a quick stay at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio.  While at Miami University she trained in cryptography, radio operation, and writing secret code. Her orders finally sent her to Bainbridge Island, Washington state to intercept coded messages from the Japanese.  She served there until the end of the war. 

“Until a few years ago I wouldn’t have been able to tell you what I did when I was in the service,” she told reporters from the Sherburne County Star News.  “I was in a branch in which you had to be a second generation American before they would even put you in there.  Then when we were discharged we were told we could not disclose what we had done while we were in the service.”  
 

Francis Beck served as an elite member of a very small contingent of women in World War Two.  Only 81,000 young women could ever claim service in the WAVES.  A young lady from Sherburne County, truly unique to the community.

Friday, March 3, 2017

Betty Belanger: A Great Historian

Betty Belanger’s was a historian.  She retired as a nurse from Cambridge Hospital.  Yet, her avocation involved documenting the lives and histories of Sherburne County and the Hungarian immigrant families around Elk River.  Her research culminated with From Dairy Farms to Gravel Pits: A History of Sherburne County’s Hungarian Community.  She documented the lives of the many Hungarian immigrants coming to Sherburne County. 

The introduction noted without her work “the stories and struggles” of these early settlers “would have faded into the past, leaving behind few traces.”  Although the statement may seem overly dramatic, it is accurate.  Without Betty Belanger, much about the Hungarian settlement in Elk River would have died.
 
Betty Belanger avoided branding the first arrival, or the latest, most vital of events.  Instead her history carefully cataloged the challenges facing early Hungarian immigrants.  She explored the role of the Church in the community.  She noted celebrations and families.   Then, beginning with the family of Rose Fazekas, Betty Belanger devoted individual chapters to many of the families settling in Elk River and Sherburne County. 

Betty Belanger was definitely a historian.  In honor of Women’s History month, I wanted to offer belated, and overdue, recognition of her work.  Betty Belanger was a gifted historian and an intrepid researcher.


Friday, February 24, 2017

World War One and The Home guard in Sherburne County

Unidentified soldier World War One
in the photo collections of
The Sherburne History Center
The Minnesota Home Guard organized in 1917 after the state National Guard joined the regular army to fight World War One in Europe.  With the creation of the Home Guard, Elk River, for the only time in its history, became the headquarters of a military organization. Although the Home Guard receives little attention in the histories of the Minnesota war effort, they provided some significant service to the communities of Sherburne County as well as aid to the state. 

The creation of the Minnesota Home Guard originated by the Minnesota Commission of Public Safety.  The state organized twenty-three battalions, consisting of over 7,000 men.  The Elk River unit became known as Company C of the 12th Battalion.  The first step in organizing Company C was the election officers.  County Attorney George H. Tyler received the rank of captain, while W. T. Parry and Herbert Imholte were named first and second lieutenants.  Following elections, an estimated 60 men from throughout the county, signed up to serve. 

Enlistment in the guard required a minimum age of 26.  In addition, these men were unpaid volunteers unless called away for extended duty.  More often the men were called upon to aid in recruitment drives, bond sales, and disaster relief. 

Company C served a vital role in helping fight fires and aid in recovery efforts in northeast Minnesota in the fall of 1918.  According to the Sherburne County Star News at least fifty members of the company quickly turned out to provide aid in the crisis. 

“People who have been inclined to poke fun at members of the Home Guard of Elk River and Sherburne County have now changed their minds about the efficiency and usefulness of this organization,” the paper opined after the events about the fires and the actions of Company C became known.    


Shortly after the fires in northeastern Minnesota, the war ended.  At the conclusion of the war in Europe, life in Sherburne County returned to a normal state of affairs.  The need for the Home Guard diminished and their function ceased by January 1921.  Although the company disbanded, their service and aid to the county remains a mark of pride for Sherburne County.

Friday, February 17, 2017

Commemorating World War One in Sherburne County

Charles C. Nelson of Sherburne
County, in uniform in service WWI
From SHC photo collections:
1990.201.266
April marks the century anniversary of United States involvement in World War One.  On April 6, 1917 Congress declared war against Germany, the Austro-Hungarian Empire and their allies. In the coming year, no doubt, a number of historians will commemorate the war activities of the United States. 

For Sherburne County, the war began earlier than April 1917.  As part of the Minnesota National guard, in 1916, young men from Sherburne County served as border guards in Texas and New Mexico.  The escapades of Pancho Villa along the Mexico-Texas border led to the stationing of National guardsmen all along the border.  General John “Black Jack” Pershing commanded Minnesota Guardsmen ordered into national service in July 1916.  Some historians maintain the United States eventually would enter the European war.  The work on the Mexico border served as training for the European theater. 

The Minnesota Guard served for less than a year in New Mexico before they returned home.  Almost immediately after their return to Sherburne County, the guardsmen were called into service in France.  Additionally, in 1917 and 1918, more than 100 young men received the draft call for service in World War I.  The war also impacted the home front, with rationing, Red Cross activities, and other programs to support the war. 


Sherburne County entered World War One before the actual declaration of war in April 1917.  As the year 2017 progresses, we will commemorate and honor the county and the events during this traumatic period.

Friday, February 10, 2017

Chet Goenner Long Time County Sheriff

Sheriff Chester J. Goenner served in
office from 1952 to 1981
Photo from the SHC collections
1990.201.220
            Every so often we write of an individual significant to the history of Sherburne County.  Another name to add to the list of movers and shakers in Sherburne Ccounty is Sheriff Chet Goenner--ed. note.  

“History will record that Sheriff Goenner solved all of the murders and bank robberies during his years in office.” The quote from the Sherburne County Star News, summarized the career of Sherburne County’s long serving sheriff. Chester Goenner served as County Sheriff from 1952 until 1981.  In the time, he earned a reputation of commanding respect and using all of his resources to get the job done.

Goenner was first appointed to the position of County Sheriff in 1952, after the death of Nial Nuemann.  Before that appointment, he served as the county deputy sheriff for 18 years.  Prior to that appointment, Goenner also worked as a bouncer for a Clear Lake liquor establishment. In total time, he served over 40 years in law enforcement.  County Treasurer Lois Riecken suggested he was naturally suited to the particular career. “Chet was a big person but used no force unless absolutely necessary,” she said.   He also commanded respect from everyone he served. 

Using different technologies to provide service to everyone in Sherburne County summarizes the career of Sheriff Chester Goenner.  In the early years of service, no radios existed in the squad cars.  “He had to call the office on a telephone to get what calls had come in,” Loretta Moos, a part-time dispatcher remembered.

 A particular story illustrating Goenner’s dedication to service concerns a missing 80 year old man who had wandered away from his home.  After a day of ground search with no results, Goenner enlisted the aid of a local pilot.  Early in the morning, Goenner and the pilot left the Monticello airport and began searching the area by air.  In less than one hour time, Goenner located the man and radioed his position to ground searchers.

Every two years, Goenner won re-election as the County Sheriff until he died in 1981.  The Sheriff “made people feel important, he treated people with respect,” Lois Riecken said.  Because he could command respect he served as sheriff without wearing a gun or uniform, she said. 


After Goenner’s death, a memorial was placed in the front of the Sherburne County Government Center.  The opening sentence described Chester J. Goenner: “A man of integrity who served all mankind impartially with fairness, compassion and dignity.”

Saturday, February 4, 2017

Thank You For Your Service

This morning, 4 February 2017, I raised the flags at the Veterans’ Memorial at the Sherburne History Center.  As I finished, a wave of pride came over me.  This is a beautiful monument to honor so many men and women who served in the military.  Today is no different from any other day.  No special occasion, just Saturday February 4.  But today I feel the need to say to the men and women currently protecting us, and to everyone who served in the military: “Thank you for your sacrifice.”