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Tuesday, 30 March 2010

Small Town Museum Holds Family History

By Madonna Dries Christensen of On Worlud Pond

Most people, I suppose, cannot walk into a museum and find artifacts from their family’s past on display. It happened to me when I visited Brunson Heritage House in my hometown in Iowa.

Because the museum was closed for the season, I had arranged for a special tour. The Brunson Heritage House is a wing of the McCallum Museum located in the park. The addition was opened in 1991 to hold an entire household of family memorabilia and antiques that had belonged to my cousin Dorthea Brunson.

Dorthea’s maternal grandparents, Zebulon Eugene Guertin and his wife Mathilda, were my maternal great-grandparents. Farmers and the parents of fifteen children, the Guertins emigrated to northwest Iowa from Canada in 1879. One of the daughters, Edna, was Dorthea’s mother. One of the sons, Edgar, was my grandfather.

Dorthea, who died in 1984, never married so she bequeathed her house and its furnishings to the Osceola County Historical Society. Her parents, George and Edna Brunson, were charter members of the society when it was formed in 1936. Dorthea also left $60,000 for upkeep on her home, which she wanted open for public viewing of her collectibles.

The society did this for several years, but it became difficult maintaining both the residence and the McCallum Museum. They did the next best thing; they sold Dorthea’s house and built an addition to the museum to hold the entire household.

When moving time came, the furnishings were not packed up willy-nilly. The committee first took pictures of every room and made detailed lists of the location of every object. After the move, they tried to place each piece where it had been in the house. Adjustments had to be made because room sizes and wall space varied from the house. The Brunson Heritage House was dedicated and opened to the public on June 15, 1991.

The house is divided into a bedroom, parlor and kitchen. The rooms look as inviting as Dorthea’s modest home must have been. The kitchen is stocked with dishes and utensils from earlier eras ready for preparing a family meal to be eaten around the oak table.

In the bedroom, there’s a ceiling high wooden wardrobe and a huge, ornately carved, oak bed made up with a quilt and plump pillows.

The parlor has comfortable stuffed chairs with reading lamps beside them. And there’s Dorthea’s father's desk from when he taught country school in the early years of the 20th century.

On the walls are framed portraits of her and my ancestors. Other small photos and albums and hundreds of antiques are stored in display cases.

Not everything is family related. Dorthea collected antiques while she lived in California where she worked as an interior designer. Also on display is her framed needlepoint, petit point and tapestries. She fashioned lamp shades and other objects from tin and copper, using the old pioneer craft of making designs by poking holes in the metal. Open for viewing are scrapbooks filled with souvenirs from Dorthea's 1920’s school days.

I would like to have some of the items that were placed in the Brunson House, especially the ancestral portraits and photos, but that wasn’t Dorthea’s plan. So I must be satisfied with her choice to see to it that family treasures did not fall into strangers’ hands.

Kept together in her Heritage House they are protected and preserved in this new century and beyond. Because of my cousin’s legacy I can visit my family’s past whenever I return to my hometown.

Guertin Family

[INVITATION: All elders, 50 and older, are welcome to submit stories for this blog. They can be fiction, non-fiction, poetry, memoir, etc. Instructions for submitting are here.]

Posted by Ronni Bennett at 02:30 AM | Permalink | Email this post


How wonderful to be able to visit your family's artifacts. The museum was wise by moving the contents to a wing.
My mother was the first Queen of the Rodeo. I donated my mother's buckskin outfit to the Pioneer Museum in my home town of Colorado Springs. They alternate putting it on display with the outfit of the second queen and only show the outfits during rodeo time. I have never been able to see my Mom's outfit on display when I was home. Now I guess I never will.

Thank you for sharing this story. What a tremendous gift Dorthea has shared with her community. I love being able to stand in a room that was designed specifically from another time period. It is exhilarating and inspiring!

Perhaps you can take digital photos (without the flash)of the paintings and photographs you would like to have. What a grand heritage Dorthea has shared.

Judy: They allowed me to take photos of the big portraits on the wall. There are also lots of photo albums, but time did not allow me to view them carefully. I would like to go back and spend more time looking at pictures.

I am going to hide this story from my wife who I know will insist on a trip to Iowa. :-)

Thank you again to my lovely Aunt Madonna for keeping our family flame alive! I've known about this family place for a while, but am so glad to be reminded of a cousin who was thoughtful enough to create such a place for her family and community. She must have been very special.

I think my husband's family must be related! He is a Guertin too with family moving from Granby, Quebec to the New England area. (We live in CT.) How exciting to see so much personal history!

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