County, take a broad view


(11/14/2004)

by Frances Edstrom

In a little over a week, we'll gather with our families for Thanksgiving. Grandpa will tell the story again about Uncle Al climbing the big oak in the back yard and being afraid to climb down. Grandma will make the same apple pie she's been making for over sixty years. Mom will bring photos of the latest addition to the family, and drag out the old photo albums to catalog the family resemblance.

History. We'll be making and celebrating our own history and that of the settling of this country that would become the United States, our home, our heritage.

A report last week about the County Board's budget discussions left my mind reeling. The topic of conversation was funding what they call "outside agencies," which include entities such as the County Fair, Project FINE, CVB, and the Winona County Historical Society.

The board gave responsibility to various department heads in July to incorporate these agency requests into their budgets and the department heads made their recommendations.

But Commissioner Marsha Ward, who seems not to regard these agencies' work as of much value to the citizens of Winona County, ignored administrators' proposals in a rehash of past discussion on the subject. She categorized county support as a "gift" hers to mete out, it seems. From there, her criticism degenerated into nitpicking such things as entrance fees and introductory deals for new members.

However, these "outside agencies," perform valid services, many of which Winona County government would find itself responsible for, at a much higher price than the meager budgets these agencies ask the county to fund, particularly the Winona County Historical Society (WCHS).

The Victorian Fair has grown into a major tourist attraction. Tourism of this nature "” not rowdy, by any stretch of the imagination "” should be welcomed by the county as good for our local economy. The annual Christmas Tour of Homes and Cemetery Walk also attract busloads of visitors to Winona County. The Society mounts smaller events over the course of the year as well, such as A Day at the Arches. All of these entertain and raise funds, yes, but also teach us about our history.

The Arches Museum, located between Stockton and Lewiston, is an important collection of buildings from the county's agrarian and rural past. Without the WCHS, county farmers know, these buildings would be in the same shape that many on private property are "” rotting or up in smoke. It takes time and money to maintain these properties, things that individuals often cannot offer for the public good. The Society also maintains and displays the Bunnell House, the first home built in Winona County by a white settler, Willard Bunnell.

Commissioner Ward suggests that the Historical Society is of more benefit to the city of Winona than to Winona County, because of its downtown location. However, both the Arches and the Bunnell House are situated outside the city limits and accessible to all county residents.

The Armory Museum also benefits the entire county. Yes, it's located downtown, right next door to the Winona County Administration Building. I'm sure Ward would agree county administration benefits the entire county, though it is located in the city of Winona.

The Armory has a fine collection of historical art and artifacts, which are well displayed to tell the story of the development of Winona County. The building also houses invaluable archives of research material carefully preserved and catalogued. Winona County's newspapers, which have recorded our daily history from the early 1800s, are on microfilm. Commissioner Ward's opinions, as recorded in local papers, are already archived there, available for the ages. Photos that individuals and businesses donate record the progress of Winona County. Births, deaths, marriages, the "paper trail" of an orderly society are housed there. Professional and amateur writers, genealogists, students, and curious members of the public use these archives to trace personal and communal histories, to place Winona County in the larger history of the state and union. There is no other entity in Winona County that houses such a resource. Not the county, not the school district, not the city, and not a private concern.

In counties without such a resource as the WCHS, the public expects the county to preserve such records and make them available. This would tax the resources of Winona County far beyond the token "gift" Commissioner Ward is so reluctant to bestow, and which has not kept up with inflation in twenty years. Value received by the county from the WCHS is already a bargain.

Commissioner Ward admits to having a "sacred cow," the County Fair. Good. But government is for all the people, not just a few. It is common knowledge that it takes a broad view, a willingness to become educated, and an enlightened mind to govern well for the future. How do we know that? History.

 

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