441 North Park Drive, Morton, MN 56270 info@renvillecountyhistory.com 507.697.6147

Can I Borrow Your Scissors?: Left-handed Woes By Nicole Elzenga

I called my mom the other day and asked her why they allowed me to continue be a left-handed writer. Her response, “Because that was what you are.” In my family, it was only myself and my Aunt Norma who were the left-handed odd ones out. If memory serves I believe I was always allowed to sit at the corner of the table to avoid elbow issues.

I have been told many times over the years that if your teacher noticed you were left-handed they would insist on changing you to right-handed. I was also told this happened continuously even into the 1950s. Last week we had a gentleman from Olivia researching the grand marshals of the Corn Capital Days in the Research Library. When I glanced over, he was writing with his left-hand. I smiled and commented, “There are three left-handed people in the research library today.” Dick Roper, my co-worker is also left-handed. About two weeks ago I noticed the Renville County Historical Society’s board secretary, Marcia Dworshak was also left-handed. What I found unusual about these sightings was the three left-handers were all over 65 years old. When I asked if their teachers or parents ever tried to change their hand-writing habits only one said yes but after school he went back to using his left hand.

When I walk into a room I am always curious as to how many other left-handers are nearby. I am very proud left-handed person and tend to notice others. It surprised me that 8 of the 15-people attending a Westbrook Library Book Club meeting a few years ago were left-handed. (added note 5 of the attendees as the last Renville County Historical Society’s April board meeting were left-handed.)

I asked a few people what they thought was hardest about being left-handed and the top three answers were trying to arrange where you sit when you eat with a group of right-handed people, writing with pencils is messy and a spiral of a notebook makes it difficult to write.

“Can I borrow your scissors?” 5 out of 6 times when I asked this question at various locations the scissors were molded for a right-handed person. I can’t use right-handed scissors with my right-hand but have taught myself to use my left-hand. This goes with manual can openers, curling irons and computer keyboards. To avoid the spiral notebook issue I use a legal pad. Left-handers only make up about 10 percent of the world’s population which doesn’t make it surprising that most gadgets are made to be right-hand operated.

We have had eight left-handed Presidents, including Barack Obama, Bill Clinton and George H.W. Bush. Actors Angelina Jolie, Jim Carrey, Tom Cruise, Hugh Jackman, Robert De Niro, Bruce Willis, Julia Roberts and Oprah Winfrey are also all left-handed. Legendary lefty athletes include baseball legend Babe Ruth and basketball star Larry Bird. I’m proud to be in the company of left-handers Wolfgang Mozart, H.G. Wells, Mark Twain, Bill Gates, Kurt Cobain and Albert Einstein.

I think we should start a left-handed club! If interested stop on by the Renville County Historical Society in Morton, Minnesota. The Keurig is always on! The Museum is open September – May: Monday – Friday 10 AM – 4 PM CLOSED MEMORIAL DAY and June-August: Monday – Saturday 10 AM – 4 PM extended hours on 4th of July. Call 507.697.6147 to make an appoint outside our posted hours or email info@renvillecountyhistory.com . Visit our website www.renvillecountyhistory.com and be sure to LIKE us on Facebook @RCHSMuseum, FOLLOW us on Twitter @RenvilleCoMNHis

Originally published in the Redwood Gazette on Thursday, April 13, 2017.

Note from author: I keep seeking out left-handed people. Sitting in a presentation at the Minnesota Alliance of Local History Museum‘s Spring Conference out of the 50 people in the room only 4 of use were left-handed. If you are left-handed drop me an email and share your left-handed stories director@renvillecountyhistory,com my curiosity on left-handedness continues!

Meet the Staff by Linda Balk

Nicole Elzenga, Executive Director

Nicole Elzenga started as our Executive Director on February 20, 2015. Nicole has jumped in with both feet and is off and running. Prior to coming to RCHS she worked for 15 years  as the Collections Manager at the Laura Ingalls Wilder Museum in Walnut Grove. The “History Geek” is learning all about Renville County and is making new friends every day. She is very interested in learning how RCHS members are connected to Renville County.

Nicole comes with the knowledge of museum works and research. She also has many connections with the regional historical society directors and curators. She is able to draw on her knowledge and the support of others to lead the museum in the future.

With her previous experience she has been getting the museum in order and making “new” finds in the museum collections. She has rearranged and expanded exhibits and has designed three new exhibits. Come down and see our “new and improved” Museum area.

Nicole has worked hard to start improving the museum. She has spearheaded the painting project with donation collected in 2015 to paint the two Norfolk Township schoolhouses and 2016 donations to paint St. John’s Church. 2017 project is to get electricity back to the schoolhouses to make the sustainable exhibit areas. The cost of this project is estimated at $2000.

Her energy and enthusiasm are contagious and she is continually on the go, whether working on PastPerfect adding accessions, seeking donations, managing the membership or meeting and helping the visitors. Her staff and volunteers are working hard with her to help the museum meet its full potential. She also serves on several boards representing RCHS.

The Keurig is on everyday and Nicole would like to meet you. Winter Hours: Monday-Friday 10 AM – 4 PM!

Experience Works

The Senior Community Service Employment Program (SCSEP) is the largest program offered by Experience Works. Last year, more than 15,000 older adults received training and job placement assistance through Experience Works SCSEP. The SCSEP is the only federal program designed specifically for low-income adults who are age 55 and older. Funded under Title V of the Older Americans Act, the SCSEP gives seniors the opportunity to receive the minimum wage while improving their job skills at local community agencies such as senior centers, schools, and health and veterans facilities prior to transitioning into the workforce. In addition to gaining valuable new skills and experience, seniors enrolled in the SCSEP contributed more than 7 million hours of community service in the last program year, increasing the quality of life for citizens in virtually every county in the nation.

The Society is proud to be a supporter of this program for many years.  Currently Dick Roper and Loren Olson work at the Museum doing various duties.

Richard “Dick” Roper started working at the Museum in November 2014.  He is a local resident graduating from Morton High School in 1967.  He is also a Vietnam veteran serving in the U.S. Navy 1968-1972.  After his service he returned to the family farm which was located in Beaver Falls Township just a mile from the Beaver Falls County Park.  He is familiar with many of the local farmers from his twenty years of selling Pioneer Seed.  His knowledge of the area and connections make him a great candidate for the Museum.  He shares the history of the area with visitors and does research, tours and assists the director with a variety of projects.  Many will remember him from his twenty years of working at Wal-Mart in Redwood Falls and his many years of behind-the-bar service.

Loren Olson started working at the Museum in April 2015.  He is originally from the Spicer/Willmar area and moved to Morton with his wife, Laurie, in the summer of 2014.  He enjoys fishing, hunting and trap shooting.  His daughter, Rachel and granddaughter both reside in Morton as well.


Working and Learning by Linda Balk

     Next year is the 100th Anniversary of the United States entering the “War to End All Wars” aka World War I. In 1920 the Olivia Times Publishing Company printed a book about all the veterans who took up the ‘colors’ in Renville County. The project that I’m working on for both the Renville County Historical Society and the Renville County Genealogical Society is updating the information on these patriotic men and women who fought for our country.

     The book has pictures of most of the men and women who served, along with snippets of information of each of them. My project is to find more information on these people. I am searching for the names of their parents, their spouses, birth dates, death dates, service information, obituaries, and if I can find them the cemeteries in which these patriotic men and women are buried.

     What started out as a simple project of looking up information on the men and women in the book has turned into a learning project for me. It has also started me on several other projects for next year. Keep tuned for more! The RCHS and the RCGS have in their research libraries many binders on the Veterans of all the wars. We would like to make sure that we have information on everyone who has served. Please take the time to either write or better yet stop in and tell us about the service personnel that you know. If you have pictures, diaries, uniforms and artifacts please bring them also. While our titles say Renville County we are not inclusive we want to honor everyone whether you are from another county or from Renville County we want to include you.

     This being said when I started out I had just shy of 1,200 men and women from the book. I have found that they missed some. I am now up to 1,450+ and am not halfway done. Some of the veterans had enlisted before the draft and some of them were missed when putting the book together. We have had some veterans who were from different parts of the country move into our county after the war so were not included in the book.

     In doing this very interesting project I have learned some things that were not included in my history books. I’ve learned how patriotic the men and women of Renville County were. They held drives, dances and ice cream socials for the Red Cross, the YMCA and Liberty Bonds. They held programs for the “lads” going off to the camps and showed their patriotism every chance they could.

     I am reading and clipping every little snippet about the boys taking up the ‘colors’ in all the newspapers of the county. This is quite a project as I’m reading three years of news in each newspaper. I’m also clipping all the snippets about the Red Cross as this was an important organization during the war. I’ve also come across information about the YMCA that I knew nothing about as the YMCA then is not the same as the YMCA today. Did you know that the YMCA was is every camp that the men were in, both in the states and in Europe? They provided the men with stationery to write home with, books to read and programs to entertain the men. The YMCA combined with other organizations brought about the USO for WW II.

     Did you know that we also had a USSGA? Now you are wondering what in the world is that. USSGA is the acronym for the United States School Garden Army. The schools were involved in growing gardens on the school property to help supplement the food supply for the people back home. They were taught how to plant and take care of the vegetables they raised. They even had uniforms. These were the forerunners of the Victory Gardens in World War II.

     Heaven forbid if you were a slacker! That meant not supporting the Liberty Loans, Red Cross, YMCA and supporting the troops. Patriotism was the word and you were called out in the print about your bad behavior. I read an article about a business man who was pro German and not supporting the cause. His business during the night was painted yellow including the windows. He saw the error of his ways and sold out, moving to a place where he was more at home. I read another article where a couple of people who had not done their fair donations were taken to the courthouse to correct their ways.

     This project while a huge undertaking is so rewarding. I look forward to learning more about the men and women of Renville County. I can’t wait for you to see the results when I’m done. Come, visit the Renville County Historical Society and Museum and see what has been done so far. I hope you will find it as fascinating and fulfilling as I do. The Keurig is always on and Nicole, our director, will be happy to help you.

A Day in the Life of a Researcher by Linda Balk

My day, most of the time, starts at 10:00 AM when the Renville County Historical Society & Museum (RCHS) opens, though on days when I have a deadline to meet or have a lot of research to do I am at the Museum at 8:00 AM. A typical day starts with checking the emails at info@renvillecountyhistory.com to see if there are any new genealogy requests., I print them out and start my ‘hunt’. There are several places I can search for answers:
  • Family files – RCHS has 19 file drawers filled with snippets of information, newspaper clippings, family histories, wedding & birth announcement and obituaries on Renville County related families. These files are arranged alphabetically by surname.
  • Early tax records – RCHS has three file cabinets filled with the tax records of the late 1860’s early 1870’s tax records. Not all years are there.
  • Church records – RCHS has files on the Renville County churches and some are gold mines of information and others not so much. RCHS is always trying to increase its information.
  • Microfilm – RCHS & the Renville County Genealogical Society (RCGS), based at the Renville Public Library, have microfilm on nearly all of the newspapers that can be found for Renville County. The microfilm collection includes various township records. RCHS & RCGS are continually adding to their microfilm collections. RCHS has hard copies of the Renville County newspaper after 2009 when the Minnesota Historical Society stopped making microfilm.
  • Photos – Both facilities have family photos, unfortunately not all of them are identified. RCHS has 3 binders of unidentified photographs, stop on by and help us identify these lost precious souls.
  • Computer – I have accounts on several sites such as ancestry.com, archives.com, fold3.com, newspapers.com and know of many other free sites that I can use for my ‘hunt’.
  • Books – Both facilities have county history books, cemetery books and other books to help glean information of families and the history of the area when they lived in the county.
  • Notebooks – Both facilities have notebooks on Renville County Servicemen which we are constantly updating as families share their information. If you have any servicemen in your family we would love to have more information on these wonderful people.
If a visitor stops in the Museum to do research, I do all I can do to assist them on their ‘hunt’. Sometimes I can help them find things on their family although there are times when the information is just not there to find. This is especially true if they were only in the area for a short period of time.
Information on what you know about each of them will help me find your elusive ancestors easier. Please remember though that if your ancestors were passing through Renville County and only stayed for a few years it will be much harder to find any trace of them as they usually didn’t leave behind many fingerprints to find.
Bear in mind that I am a volunteer and only work a couple of days a week so it might take a while before I get back to you. I try to get to the research as soon as I can. Also, since I am in the Museum I am also doing research for the Museum. My research right now is finding out more about the servicemen of World War I. This is a huge undertaking that is taking a lot of my time. It started small and like a rolling snowball has grown into a large project of which we are excited about all the information we have located!
While the Museum closes at 4:00 PM, I am normally there until 5:00 PM cleaning up the mess that I made doing research whether it be on the computer or on my desk.
The Renville County Historical Society does charge for research, $20 per hour with a minimum 1/2 hour $10 search and RCHS charges for copies, postage and digital copies. Please refer to our website www.renvillecountyhistory.com for more information on our fees.
Visited the Share Your Story section on our website www.renvillecountyhistory.com.


Museum Hours

September – May
Monday – Friday: 10 AM – 4 PM Closed Saturday & Sunday
June, July & August
Monday – Saturday: 10 AM – 4 PM Closed Sunday
Call to make an appointment outside the posted hours above, 507.697.6147
Museum Admission: $5.00 per person (13 & Older) $3.00 (Ages 6 – 12) 5 & Under FREE!