Heritage and war

Photo: Lars Wanberg. Wally Ruud leaning on the wheel of the old Fire Wagon inside the Northwood Pioneer museum, Northwood, North Dakota.

A portrait of a veteran and a museum 71 years after the Pearl Harbor Attacks

By Larrie Wanberg

N.D. Contributing Editor

Not so often these days can one visit with WWII veterans to hear their stories.

Not surprising, either, when one considers that it was 71 years ago when Japan attacked the U.S. to launch WWII at Pearl Harbor in Hawaii on December 7th.

Veteran Wally Ruud, age 91, has a bundle of stories to tell, including being a Navy gunner on a gunship off the shore of Japan in a diversionary action when the B-29 aircrafts flew overhead to drop the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

At war’s end, he had another story about a Navy Commander that believed his future service was to raise produce as a farmer when the world needed food more than another sailor.

He has stories about being sent home from school his first day for not being able to speak English after being raised only in Norwegian. Years later, as city marshal, by saving the city money for keeping the local jail empty of Saturday night drunks by delivering the offenders to their home doorstep and turning them over to their upset wives.

In Northwood, ND, population 945, the Pioneer Museum is capturing stories of veterans and pioneers by engaging youth to interview seniors that preserve these stories in digital format for future generations.

Northwood claims the honor of having more Norwegian immigrants per capita in America, according to the 2000 census. You can hear the dialect from Hallingdal dating back 125 years ago at the Northwood Senior Center.

In 2007, the city was severely damaged by a tornado and the recovery process included the renewal of the Northwood Pioneer Museum – advancing a folk collection of Norwegian immigrant history into the digital age. Youth with smart phones are beginning to convert static showcases into digital stories to make heritage “come alive” in short, documentary-type films by those who lived it. To sustain this project, called “Museum Without Walls,” the traditional board of senior citizens is developing a

“parallel board” of youth in co-positions, so that seniors manage the content and students manage the technologies.

Photo: Lars Wanberg. The Northwood Pioneer Museum in Northwood, ND houses a vast array of Norwegian-American artifacts from early immigrants and their descendants.

High school students, armed with equipment as simple as a smart phone, are beginning to capture stories of pioneers and veterans in short films. Their training includes distance-learning mentoring by experienced professionals.

The Northwood American Legion Post, two entrepreneurial businesses and a Grand Forks motel with a manager from Northwood have provided funds for student training scholarships that support digital media as a way to develop heritage tourism. Requests for similar funding are pending from local banks, credit unions, and community organizations to sustain regional digital storytelling in short films to preserve and promote ethnic and cultural history for future generations.

Brock Shreva, youth co-president at age 18, together with Evy Arnet, age 87, current president, share responsibilities for development of this innovative approach to bridging generations of heritage.

“I used to think museums were a collection of old stuff,” he said, “until I discovered a Navy uniform on display with only a name pinned to it.” The sailor, who was believed to be among the 1,177 killed onboard the USS Arizona on December 7th, actually survived the destruction. He read his obituary, which was printed in the Northwood newspaper, The Gleaner, on his way home.

“Now that’s a story that needs to be told when visitors to the museum pass by this uniform,” Brock said. ”A link or a digital “QR” code next to his name could tell his story in a short digital film for the world to remember. After I researched his story, I felt that this sailor, who was my age then that I am now, became a ‘friend’ that I never knew.”

Diane Trageton manages the day-to-day operations of the museum as a volunteer. Her husband’s great grandfather was one of eight Norwegian immigrant families that were founders of Northwood after arriving by ox cart in 1874. Descendants of other Norwegian immigrant families that settled Northwood 127 years ago still reside in their hometown.

Wally Ruud, with a glint in his eye, relives history that he witnessed every time a regular “story circle” forms over coffee or a game of cards. When his buddies get together, the language often interchanges between English and Norwegian dialect.

From the museum’s perspective, these moments in time need to be captured and preserved before they fade like a historic photo left unattended in the sun.

You can view two short videos related to this article at http://dakotaheritageinstitute.com/ – “We Need Farmers, not Sailors”

(2:51) and “Snakker Norsk” (2:36).

This article originally appeared in the Dec. 7, 2012 issue of the Norwegian American Weekly. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (800) 305-0271.

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Larrie Wanberg

Larrie Wanberg, 1920–2021, contributed features to The Norwegian American for many years, drawing on eight decades of life experience highlighted by three career recognitions: as a researcher through a Fulbright Scholarship to Norway in 1957; as a health care provider in behavioral science through a 27-year military career and awarded upon retirement in 1981 the highest non-combat medal, the Legion of Merit medal; as an educator, through a 50-year career in college education, culminating in the 2010 Public Scholar award at the UND Center for Community Engagement. Wanberg passed away in May, 2021.