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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.