Reminiscing programs to help preserve ag history

Chad Smith

The Giants of the Earth Historical Society and Heritage Center in Spring Grove is dedicated to recording and preserving the history and heritage of this area. To that end, it is hosting a series of historical discussions through the rest of January led by Dr. Jim Gray, a longtime veterinarian in the Spring Grove area. However, he doesn’t want to be the only one sharing stories during the “Reminiscing with Dr. Gray” programs this month. 

“It was back in 1965, I was fresh out of veterinary school and moved to Spring Grove,” Gray recalled. “I practiced here for 50 years and things were so much different back then compared to today. We had a lot of little farms all over the area that had a lot of livestock, and it was so much fun running around from farm to farm treating animals. 

“You got to know the farmer, plus you got to know his wife and kids because they were also out there working on the farm. I like to call it the ‘Golden Years of Agriculture’ because you had kids out there learning a good work ethic as the families worked together.” 

He says agriculture has a lot more “giants” than it used to when it comes to farm size. So, as things continue to change in rural America, the Giants of the Earth volunteers want to preserve this history. It’s a great story of how people lived, worked, and supported their community. That’s part of the reason they chose January to host these programs. 

“I remember being out working all day in January 40 to 50 years ago,” Gray said. “In the middle of the afternoons, I sometimes stopped in at some of the little stores around the area and they’d have a fire going in a potbelly stove. There’d be a half-dozen farmers sitting in chairs around the fire, taking a break, having a cup of coffee, and sharing stories.” 

Gray said if his schedule allowed it, he’d pull up a chair and share some stories too. “It was so much fun,” he recalled with a smile you could almost see during a recent a phone call. “That’s what I’m hoping to do when we sit down on Thursdays at the Historical Center.” 

The first program on Jan. 9 focused on the topic of threshing. The rest of the schedule looks like this: Jan. 16 will cover silo filling; Jan. 23 covers tractors and horses; Jan. 30 program will talk all about handling livestock. Again, while Gray leads the discussion, he wants people who’ve lived through their share of history to come and share some of their own stories and bring some photos to share, if they like. Coffee and treats will be provided, with discussion to begin at 2 p.m. each Thursday. 

“I grew up on a livestock farm in Iowa,” Gray remembered, “and my dad had a threshing machine. We were the unofficial heads of the threshing run, so I sort of grew up with that. I know quite a bit about what happened back then, so I could start off telling my story about that topic. Threshing was quite a social event. What we’re hoping for, no matter what the topic, is others who’ll come and share their own stories too.” 

He says everything they do at the history center will be recorded for posterity, noting that the recording equipment there is “really good.” The center is going to videotape all of the programs and a person will edit each program to possibly put together a documentary sometime in the future. 

As more and more folks from back then pass on, Gray said the Historical Society is anxious to get as many stories and memories electronically preserved as possible. “We want to get this stuff recorded and available for posterity,” he said. “As Giants (of the Earth), we’re always looking at ways to preserve history.” 

The Giants of the Earth Historical Society first came into existence back in 2008 (incorporated in 2009) because Gray, his wife, Karen, and a few friends wanted to preserve the “Ola and Per Comic Strip,” written by Spring Grove native Peter Rosendahl. They now have an entire room at the Historical Center dedicated to the comic strip. Karen Gray is president of the historical society. 

“Our mission is to preserve the past,” she said, “Introduce the young people to the culture of their forebearers, and document history as it occurs.” 

The historical center is at 163 West Main Street in Spring Grove. For more information on the historical center and the programs it offers, call 507-498-5070.