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Southwest Minnesota History Center and Louwagie holding history together

November 21, 2012
By Angie Stucker , Marshall Independent

The following story was written by Stucker for Marianne Zarzana's Intro to Journalism class at Southwest Minnesota State University. The assignment was to write about a place on the SMSU campus or the community

MARSHALL -?Walls with old maps. Piles of documents. An array of card catalog boxes. Shelves overflowing with books. Welcome to the cluttered, yet organized Southwest Minnesota History Center.

Located in Social Science (SS) 141 at Southwest Minnesota State University (SMSU) in Marshall, the History Center covers 19 counties and is one of only eight such regional centers set up in Minnesota during the 1970s.

"With those one-room school houses, churches, businesses closing down we needed a public records repository (in southwest Minnesota) to store those documents before they were thrown away," said Jan Louwagie, coordinator of the Southwest Minnesota History Center.

Louwagie, a 1979 SMSU history graduate, has been at the History Center since she started there as a work study student in 1976.

75 percent of History Center research is for family histories

More than 500 history requests/year

Located in Social Science 141

Record categories: business, census, church, government, legislative, naturalization, oral history interviews, newspapers and photographs

Membership in online genealogy site,, that covers far beyond the local 19 counties

Hours: Tuesday and Thursday 9 a.m.- 4:30 p.m. (other weekdays by appointment)

Thirty-six years later, Louwagie said, "I love working with students and getting them to spark an interest in history. Seeing and holding all these old things. The pages and the ink in contrast to social media: the (online) texting and digital views."

Louwagie uses a box of handwritten letters from 1915 to convey to students the importance of holding history.

From these letters, the students can relate to historic details of a college-age girl's life. Louwagie often asks them how many have sent a handwritten letter in the past year. "Where is your history going to be?" she asks them. With the "forms of media changing so quickly," Louwagie questions if the history housed in blogs today will be around later.

As a way to further record the local history, seven books and 27 essays have been published through the History Center's ties with the Society for the Study of Local and Regional History. All are available for viewing in the center.

Everyone is "always invited to get started" with their family history, she said, or other history searches at the Center. Volunteers are available to assist. Locally, they have indexed more than 280,000 obituaries and 59,000 gravestones. But they also can help with global searches, on-site resource books and networking off-site.

"If I hadn't been accepted to medical school, I would have gone into history. It is my second love," said Dr. Wayne Taintor, a 20-year volunteer.

On one occasion, a man living in Norway requested further information on his grandfather's family. They had immigrated to the U.S. long ago. Louwagie assigned Taintor the task.

"After several months, I was able to find relatives here in the Clarkfield area but also from Canada to the Gulf Coast and from the East to the West Coast," said Taintor with pride in his voice. "Two seven-page letters with family names and history were sent to the man along with two family reunion invites."

Louwagie oversees Taintor and seven more volunteers.

About Louwagie, Dr. Joan Gittens, SMSU professor of history, said "She works with students, not only history students, but anyone who comes to her attention with a generosity (that) is legendary."



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