History Alive

Community Engagement

Featured in Folklife Center News, Summer-Fall 1997.

English teacher Stuart Garrick in Broadus wanted a project that would engage the students in research and writing at the same time it allowed them to serve the community. He teamed up with Don and Bobbie Heidel, directors of the Powder River Historical Museum. The museum had several stations that featured collections of artifacts but few interpretive materials. So teams of students each selected a station, conducted interviews with folks who knew the area's history, researched collections of the library and the county courthouse, then wrote scripts for an audio walking tour of the museum. Students recorded the tapes, and donated them to the museum.

Meanwhile, Paula Nisley began her heritage project in the sophomore English classes fairly conventionally by using the literature of World War II. The students viewed films, read novels, and discussed the war as it was presented by artists. Then, instead of moving on to another topic, she sent the young people into the community to interview veterans about their experiences and reflections. The students wrote biographies of those veterans, which were donated to the Powder River Historical Society Museum.

Freshman David Scoles chose for his subject his own grandfather, who had been the most decorated veteran from Powder River County during World War II. He found photographs of his grandfather's war years, not in a family album but in the Powder River Historical Museum. As David planned his drawing, he interviewed his grandfather several times. His Grandfather Patten had wanted to serve his country when the war began but didn't want to shoot anyone, so he became a medic. While serving on Los Negroes Island, he was forced to evacuate forty wounded men through enemy territory. He accomplished the task with no casualties and was awarded the Bronze Star. He was also awarded a purple heart after being wounded in the jaw and in both legs. "I got the medals for being there," the older man modestly explained to his grandson.

David completed a drawing showing three views of his grandfather. The next day, Mr. Patten died. "This drawing helped me understand him," David said. "And it will help me remember him."