Breathing life into Lyle history; Dual projects will preserve the legacies of longtime residents

Article Type: 
Publication Date: 
Thursday, December 1, 2016
Publication Date Is Approx: 

Breathing life into Lyle history; Dual projects will preserve the legacies of longtime residents

Dual projects — one written and one oral — promise to lend life to Lyle history.

Mitchell Helle, a Lyle native, worked with John Haymond of the Mower County Historical Society to apply for a Minnesota Legacy Grant in order to film and preserve oral histories of longtime residents. The grant is funded through the Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund and was formally granted to the Mower County Historical Society.

Once done, Helle will embark on producing a written history of his community, to be done by the time the community celebrates its 150th, in 2020.

The idea for the project came from conversation with friends and Helle was tapped to oversee the project. In its first phase, Helle recorded 19 hours of oral history with several longtime residents. In addition to being videotaped, the interviews were also audio taped and transcribed to written copy — some 280 pages worth, Helle said. Application will be made for grants to allow second and third phases of the project, that would cover schools and businesses, and the rural areas near Lyle.

Equipment purchased will eventually be given to the historical society.

The grant of $9,529 helped Helle concentrate on the first phase’s focus on organizations and churches. Finding citizens with knowledge about both categories was difficult at times, especially if an organization — such as the Knights of Pythias and the Lyle Women’s Christian Temperance Union — had disbanded.

Other challenges came with fires in early structures, that often destroyed valuable records.

The oral history, however, while perhaps not as sharply defined in terms of dates and names, is something that gives history texture, Helle said.

“The oral histories fill in the gaps and give … a different perspective on events,” Helle said. “They offer a more interesting viewpoint.”

And, unique stories, he said.

There is Patty Conradt, for instance, who competed in the Princess Kay of the Milky Way at the Minnesota State Fair, and, as is tradition for all candidates, had her face sculpted from a 90-pound block of butter. She talked about taking the head home and keeping it in a freezer, “carving a little off of this side of the face, or that side of the face, of what the family needed” and keeping the head intact for some time. In fact, a long time. Ninety pounds of butter is a lot of butter.

Helle also enjoyed listening to the memories of Leonard Haugland, 100, who could remember a time when he was young when he would speak as much Norwegian as English to friends and neighbors.

Some of the memories helped to tap other resources of information, all of which will help with the writing of the history, Helle said. There is lots of information; each interview lasted from one to two hours, he added.

Helle said application must be made for each of the next two phases of oral histories. Grants are awarded twice a year. In the meantime, he continues to gather information for the written history. He says that if anyone has photographs that can be used for the history, or other information, to contact him at 507-481-2382, or via email at