Lyle Oral History Phase 1: Organizations and Churches

(from the grant application)

Project Summary: Record and transcribe 10 oral history interviews about Lyle community organizations and churches from the 1930s to present and their impact on the community.


Lyle is a small community (population 551) south of Austin in Mower County on the Minnesota-Iowa border. The first settlers to Lyle came in the late 1850s and the City of Lyle was established in 1870. Lyle is a primarily agricultural community with a number of farms that have been in the same families for as much as 150 years. Despite its small size, Lyle still operates an independent school district and hosts a number of events that showcase civic pride such as the Lyle Cancer Auction fundraiser and the annual Fourth of July celebration. The City of Lyle will celebrate its sesquicentennial in the year 2020.

Like many small rural towns, Lyle has seen a number of changes that have greatly impacted the character of the area and lifestyles of its residents. As a small rural community with no active newspaper, Lyle has large pieces of its recent history missing from the written record. The oral history interviews will help fill in these gaps and help spark interest in the community for the Lyle sesquicentennial. The expected phases of the Lyle oral history project include:

  • Phase 1: Organizations and Churches (this project)
  • Phase 2: Businesses and Schools
  • Phase 3: Rural Lyle

This first phase of the Lyle oral history project will focus on the organizations and churches in Lyle and their impacts on the community. Many organizations and churches have been influential throughout the years in Lyle including:

  • Active churches: Six Mile Grove (founded in 1859), Our Savior’s, Queen of Peace
  • Inactive churches: Helen Velonis Ministries, Congregational Church
  • Inactive national organizations: Pythian Sisters Temple No. 54 from 1916 to 1999, Women’s Christian Temperance Union from 1887 well into the 1970s
  • Active national organizations: Lions Club, Boy Scouts, 4-H clubs, American Legion Post 105,
  • Local organizations: Lyle Area Cancer (still active), Volunteer fire department

Interviewees will be selected with a mix between: city and country residents, old and young, members and leaders. Interviewee list is to-be-determined by the interviewer and project director.

Need and Rationale

Finding information for very small communities such as Lyle is difficult. Lyle has been without its own newspaper since 1951. Two small history books exist, one written in the 1950s and one written in the 1970s. However both focus heavily on the early history of Lyle in the 1800s and early 1900s then leave a sizeable gap until a brief mention of Lyle businesses at the time of publication. As a community of only 551 residents, there are correspondingly smaller numbers of artifacts that have been preserved by a correspondingly smaller number of historians. By recording oral history interviews, this project will add much-needed insight into poorly documented periods of the history of Lyle.

Much of Lyle history is contained in individual family histories. The types of churches and organizations these people formed paints a picture of what is important to them. In addition, many of the largest events in Lyle are sponsored by these organizations and regular meetings often turned into community forums. Some organizations such as Helen Velonis Ministries, the Congregational Church, and Sisters of Pythias now exist in Lyle only in memory. Others such as Lyle Area Cancer are making important history today that should be recorded for future generations. Focusing on churches organizations for the first phase of the Lyle oral history project allows us to capture important aspects of Lyle’s history while raising awareness of the larger project in the community.

Mower County Historical Society (MCHS) has started to do work toward oral history projects in the past but this will be their first professionally structured oral history project. The requested equipment will reside at MCHS and will enable the creation and editing of the interviews as well as the viewing of the video interviews by the public. MCHS will serve as the long-term archive for the oral history interviews and will adhere to professional standards in their documentation, preservation and storage.