“Our view of the past is formed by the things we choose to keep and the stories we choose to tell.”
I was always a curious child — from starting my own neighborhood newspaper, the Central Avenue News, outside Chicago when I was in fifth grade to throughout my adult years as an editor for community newspapers here in the Twin Cities area.
I was fascinated with the stories people had to tell, so as a child I reported about distant relatives coming to visit our neighborhood along the shores of Lake Michigan, and I later reported the detailed reasons why the Burnsville City Council made a decision regarding new parks in our community.
This encompassing passion for people’s stories led me to the Burnsville Historical Society — because every person in this community, no matter how long they have lived here, has a story to tell about their experiences in this town. Stories about how their neighbors got together to clean up their street after straight-line winds caused so much tree and home damage in the 1990s; stories about meetings with Burnsville Public Safety officers to discuss splitting the department into separate fire and police units in the 1970s; stories about neighbors who helped a family during a medical crisis with their daughter after a car accident; and, yes, stories about reopening the park on Cliff Road in June 2013.
All these stories, even the ones from yesterday, are a part of the fabric of our community — our history. It doesn’t matter if you have lived here since when the town was formed or just moved in last week — you are part of the history of Burnsville!
So, who cares? Why is it important to preserve these stories, to document what has happened in our past?
In 1931, historian Carl Becker said, “Everyman … reaches out into the distant country of the past” to inform his present and his future. “Without this historical knowledge, this memory of things said and done, his today would be aimless and his tomorrow without significance.”
Pretty fancy language, right? To put it more simply, students study the past not because they need a rote memorization of old facts. They study the past because learning about history helps them understand how both human beings and the world work. It is said that knowledge of the past is necessary to understand the reality of the present.
Look around you. The best-selling books right now include biographies of famous people, both living and dead. History is one of the most popular cable TV channels, having been nominated for many Academy Award presentations over the past few years — all based on historical events. Even the Weather Channel has a special segment featuring how the weather has been a major influence on historical events, including the sinking of the Titanic.
Globalism, international business, terrorism, the Internet — all are major influences on your present and your future. To understand why your pharmacy cannot provide you with the brand of pills that you like, you need to understand that the international news of the day in Israel may have influenced the shipment from that country’s pharmaceutical company to the United States. Understanding the history of that country’s foreign and economic policies could help you, as a consumer, make better decisions regarding your health care drugs.
Although no guarantee that it will predict the future, understanding history can provide insight. Mark M. Krug, former professor of history and education at the University of Chicago’s Graduate School of Education, said it well: “The knowledge of how men acted in the past, how they have striven to order the life of their respective societies, and how they have striven to overcome diversity, may not always suggest ingenious solutions to present crises, but it undoubtedly makes the task easier by providing a background and a body of past experience. History is indeed an inexhaustible source of examples and modes of life and ‘styles of life,’ and as such, and to that extent, it is a school of wisdom.”
As with all great events, stories of bravery, the resourcefulness and actions of people, are what we learn from and what capture our imaginations. The story of Burnsville is the narrative of each one of you who has lived here. We are who we are because of what we have learned from individuals who came before us. Their collective memory shapes and guides us in creating a better future.
History is preserved not just through government institutions but through actions of selfless individuals like you who became aware of a momentous event or were touched personally, then inspired to act. From preserving Native American grave sites to sharing your past relatives’ letters written during their trek West by covered wagon, because of endeavors of people like you, these become part of all our history. These are the kinds of stories the members of the Burnsville Historical Society are working to save.
“Our collections include objects used by the original settlers and their families,” said Len Nachman, BHS president. “Our boxed archives document the history of Burnsville. We have original documents relating to the founding of Burnsville, as well as many other public papers. Our archives continue to grow, with families donating their journals and personal papers that relate to this community’s history. We have bound volumes of community newspapers and plan to make them available on our website in the future. We have begun an extensive oral history project and sell local history books, published in 1976 and 2000.”
Kevin Swanson, BHS board trustee, shared why he got involved. “I grew up in Burnsville and joined BHS because my father was a lifelong (83 years) resident. He farmed near the northwest end of Crystal Lake. His stories regarding Burnsville and the surrounding area are what sparked my interest in preserving the past. BHS gives me a chance to share his stories as well as hear new ones. It gives us all a place to keep our history alive and, most importantly, BHS is preserving our past so that as our city grows we will always have something to look back upon.”
Success is only through the support of people like you. As is true with most of our members, we realize civilization’s true history and the measure of our society are found not only in the stories of famous events, but perhaps more important, are found in the accounts of ordinary people doing extraordinary things.
We would like to invite you, both residents and nonresidents of Burnsville, no matter your age, to become a member of the Burnsville Historical Society, a local nonprofit organization dedicated to preserving and presenting the rich history of our community. The only requirement for membership is that you have an interest in preserving Burnsville’s history.
The annual membership fee is $20, which also includes membership in the Dakota County Historical Society. Benefits of membership, in addition to supporting our collection of artifacts and the research and storage of our archives, include a monthly newsletter, monthly open and free public meetings, and invitations to special exhibits.
Monthly meetings will resume in September. The BHS will participate in Burnsville’s International Festival on Saturday, July 13, from 3-5 p.m. Our booth will be in the Performing Arts Center off Nicollet Avenue next to the park. Come visit us and share a story!
For more information, contact us by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or call Len Nachman at 612-670-3785.
Bonnie Boberg of Burnsville worked for the Current and Sun-Current newspapers from early 1976 to summer 2009.