Sixth grade students from Spring Grove Public School braved the chilly weather as they walked to the Giants of the Earth Heritage Center for the first-ever Academy hosted by the Heritage Center. The students listened to coordinator Bill Fried as he explained the Academy as well as the significance of the beautiful paintings that surrounded them on the walls of Immigrant Hall. PHOTO: MARLENE DESCHLER/SPRING GROVE HERALD
Sixth grade students from Spring Grove Public School braved the chilly weather as they walked to the Giants of the Earth Heritage Center for the first-ever Academy hosted by the Heritage Center. The students listened to coordinator Bill Fried as he explained the Academy as well as the significance of the beautiful paintings that surrounded them on the walls of Immigrant Hall. PHOTO: MARLENE DESCHLER/SPRING GROVE HERALD
The United States is known as a cultural melting pot; immigrants from many different countries came to the United States for a variety of reasons including starting a better life where there was supposed to be more opportunities. Due to this melting together of cultures, Americans can have many different ethnic backgrounds and many different reasons as to why their ancestors chose to live in this area of Minnesota or the mid-west.

One of the missions that the Giants of the Earth Heritage Center has is to help preserve history and to help people learn and write their own family stories. They are going to be doing just that as they conduct their first-ever Giants of the Earth Heritage Center Academy.

"We are going to help you discover your family story, preserve it, and share it," explained Giants of the Earth board member, Bill Fried, to the sixth grade class from Spring Grove Public School whom the Academy is tailored to. "Chances are that you'll learn something about your family that you didn't know before. After you learn your family story, you can tell that story with not only words, but with photos like the murals on the walls here."

Fried explained to the sixth grade students the significance of the murals on the walls in Immigrant Hall at the Heritage Center. He explained that a Norwegian artist, the late Sigmund Aarseth, was asked to tell the story of Spring Grove through murals. Fried explained each wall and what it represented and how the story all fit together and flowed from Norway to the United States, telling the history of Spring Grove.

Through writing their own family history, the students will also learn Minnesota history -why did the immigrants settle in this area, what brought them this far west? They will also learn about the people that inhabited this land before the immigrants and what pioneer life was like. To dig deeper into their family histories, the students will learn of all the genealogical resources that are available to search and how to use them in order to create a family tree.

"Everyone's family trees will be different and unique to their family," commented Fried. "Don't worry if your family tree is not as busy as your neighbors. It's just important to accurately collect as much information as you can."

Spring Grove used to be known as Norwegian Ridge because it was first settled by Norwegian immigrants. Norwegian heritage remains strong in Spring Grove, but over the years many other nationalities have also been added. "It doesn't matter if you are Norwegian or not," said Fried, "or if your family has only lived here for two years; something brought you here and that story is important to future generations."

The Academy is ten sessions long culminating just before Syttende Mai. During the Syttende Mai weekend celebration, all of the students' family history projects will be on display at the Heritage Center for visitors to peruse. There will also be a final presentation of the five best projects at the Spring Grove Cinema on May 15.

The students completed their first session with a worksheet collecting basic information about their families including where their parents were born and their family's cultural background. They will use this as a basis of information that they will add to as they collect information and stories about their families.

The Herald will continue to follow the Academy as the students learn more about their family histories and document those stories at this time in history. Watch the Herald for further updates.