Members of the board of directors for History Alive! Lanesboro include, from top to bottom, Enid Dunn, Jane Peck, Ted St. Mane, Steve Harris, Heidi Dybing and Blake Norby.
COURTESY OF JANE PECK Members of the board of directors for History Alive! Lanesboro include, from top to bottom, Enid Dunn, Jane Peck, Ted St. Mane, Steve Harris, Heidi Dybing and Blake Norby.
History will continue to come alive in Lanesboro as Jane Peck and her group of volunteers incorporated an organization dedicated to celebrating the historic community’s past.

The board members of History Alive! Lanesboro have established the new entity as an official non-profit, which will allow the group to apply for grants to help it fulfill its goals to bring pop-up plays and other programming to the community – all dedicated to telling important stories from Lanesboro’s history.

“The unifying theme is it will all pertain to stories about Lanesboro and the region,” Peck said about their future planning. “Those stories will be presented in different methods – some writing, some plays, some theater.”

Peck has organized live productions, held throughout the streets of Lanesboro, over the past two years. These “pop-up plays,” as she called them, incorporated important periods of time in Lanesboro’s history. Last year, the plays focused on the 1930s and the Civilian Conservation Corps camp that was established nearby. Using living residents as resources, as well as resources from the Lanesboro Historical Society, Peck wrote plays that were presented in May and September of last year.

“These were started out of my career of performing history,” Peck explained. “My own interest was in the challenge of creating shows on the history of Lanesboro and then setting them in the town where it happened.”

Funds to support the first year of plays were obtained through an individual artist grant and the Lanesboro museum served as the fiscal agent for the productions last year, getting an Arts and Cultural Heritage Grant from the Legacy funds.

However, as the board members looked to the future and the third year of producing plays, they felt they had come to a crossroads. “It was a matter of do we die or do we organize,” Peck said.

Moving forward became the consensus as people were still excited and supportive the vision, Peck said.

“It’s been a lot of fun – a lot of work, yes – but also a lot of fun. We’ve also found a lot of inspiration and there are still stories to tell,” she added.

Because History Alive! Lanesboro has achieved its non-profit status, it will now be able to apply for grant funds itself. However, most grants require matching funds, so the organization will be hosting a fundraiser on Sunday, March 19, to help develop an operating fund for that purpose. The event, “Lanesboro Ted Talk,” will be led by local historian Ted St. Mane and will be held at the Methodist church at 4 p.m.

“We are presenting a talk about history,” Peck explained. “Ted will do a talk with slides from the old days and we will be showing some video clips of last year’s pop-up plays.”

The event will also be a potluck, so those attending are asked to bring their culinary specialties, she added.

More stories to tell

People who have grown up in Lanesboro have shared their memories and experiences through interviews and Peck said she has a wealth of information that can still be incorporated into new plays. That is part of the reason this year’s plays will continue to feature life in Lanesboro during the 1930s.

“We are going to stick with the 1930s, telling stories with many of the same characters, but in new situations,” Peck said. “I think it’s going to be kind of fun. People know the characters.”

In preparation of writing the stories featured in last year’s pop-up plays, Peck said they interviewed six different individuals who had lived in the area during the 1930s.

“We have wonderful oral histories to pull from,” she added. “It was a rich time period and we have good resources to write a whole new set of stories.”

Peck also noted that the local Lanesboro Leader newspaper had a lot written about the time. “It was a big town at the time,” she said. “It was probably at its peak then – being twice the size as it is now and had been for about 30 years at that point.”

In the past, Peck and the group of local actors have presented the pop-up plays in May and September, but Peck said this year’s plays will be presented two weekends in September instead. The first weekend will be Sept. 23 and 24 and the second will be Sept. 30 and Oct. 1.

In place of the May weekend of plays, the History Alive! Lanesboro group will host an evening’s presentation of last year’s videotaped pop-up play. It was recorded and edited by a student intern, Makita Barkley. “It’s beautiful,” Peck said. “She did such an amazing job.”

A special concert featuring the Rutabaga Brothers will be held on Sept. 16 with some of the pop-up play characters attending the event.

Peck said other programming in the future will include volunteers dressed in costume giving small-group history tours of Lanesboro. These will likely be done on Saturdays through the summer months, when there are many visitors in town. “It will not be an architectural tour, but a story tour,” she explained. “The town just begs for it.”

As the group continues to set goals to continue celebrating Lanesboro’s history, Peck said, “We have lots of plans, I hope we have lots of energy!”

She admits that she didn’t expect her vision for the pop-up plays to continue beyond that first year, but the response that first weekend was incredible and awe-inspiring. “We did five performances and we had over 300 people attend them,” she recalled. “And the people’s enthusiasm has continued to inspire us.”

Peck reminded individuals that the History Alive! mission is to help locals strengthen their community identity as well as to allow visitors to experience what life was like in a small town. “We like to highlight what made these small towns wonderful,” she said. “We have a town that looks like an old town, but it’s real, and it has all these stories attached to it.”

While Peck still has a lot of resources to draw upon for future stories, she is always interested in hearing more from local residents.

“If anybody has family stories or experiences, especially of riding the trains in the 1930s, I would love to hear them,” she concluded, adding that she would also like to know locations of any hobo jungles that may have existed in the Lanesboro area during that time.