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Young people preserving old structures

Every year, more and more historic buildings and sites are added to the Minnesota Historical Society's list for repair and maintenance. Unfortunately, as the list of repairs grow, the number of people trained in preservation repair work decreases.

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Northern Bedrock demonstration session crew at the Duluth Armory. Left to right, Mark Poirier, Armory Arts and Music Center project development coordinator, Alexandra Kosik, Jennifer Sustar, Meghan Weber, crew leader Anne Ketz, Zach Small and Rolf Hagberg. (Photo submitted)

Every year, more and more historic buildings and sites are added to the Minnesota Historical Society's list for repair and maintenance. Unfortunately, as the list of repairs grow, the number of people trained in preservation repair work decreases.

"There are a lot of guys in their 50s, 60s and 70s and eventually they're going to retire, quit or go away. And the MNHS doesn't really see an influx of young adults that are excited about history and these preservation trade skills," Rolf Hagberg said.

That's where the Northern Bedrock Historic Preservation Corps comes in. Inspired by the Civilian Conservation Corps of the past, the corps was formed with the goal of providing valuable experiences that equip young adults with effective life skills. Corps members are exposed to Minnesota's historic and cultural heritage through hands-on preservation work, while - true to the conservation corps mission - engaging them in meaningful work and provide them technical and social skills training.

"It's this great combination of adventure and work. They're learning new skills, camping in beautiful places, working together and, oh guess what, they get paid while they're doing it," said Hagberg, executive director of Northern Bedrock.

The corps is open to young adults, ages 18-25. The first crew worked for five weeks in Oct. of 2014 and this year's crew will begin training on Sept. 14. The corps is centered in Duluth, but the crew travels to locations across Minnesota, anywhere their skills are needed. Corps members are trained in a variety of restoration methods for each project.

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Last year the crew helped preserve two cemeteries, the Mount Hope Cemetery near Afton and the Scandia Cemetery next the the Glensheen Mansion.

"There are over 1,000 abandoned and neglected cemeteries in Minnesota. Cemeteries can really tell you a lot of information. Once you've lost these cemeteries, you've really lost this tie to the past and to history," Hagberg said.

The crew was trained in the Scandia Cemetery by technical specialist Jarrod Roll, owner of Save Your Stones and professional gravestone cleaner. Roll taught the crew how to probe, clean and reset the gravestones. Anne Ketz, the corps crew leader last year, said she felt really proud of their cemetery work.

"It (Mount Hope Cemetery) was completely overgrown and nearly abandoned," Ketz said. "It was great to help make sure the stones can be easily found."

Although she enjoyed the cemetery work, Ketz said her favorite project was working on the McDougall barn near Royalton, Minn. There the crew repaired rotted sections of a barn door, reattached it to the building, cleared away brush and vegetation and repaired the wood flooring.

"We were camping nearby and that really creates a unique bond between us as a crew. We worked very well together," Ketz said. "I'm looking forward to seeing what work they accomplish this year."

Ketz had just finished up a master's program in historic preservation at the University of Maryland and was looking to come back to Minnesota when she found the corps. Today she works for the Preservation Alliance of Minnesota as a real-estate coordinator.

"I think I'll always be willing to volunteer to help restore places now. I don't get to do it as much in my job right now, but the experience is helpful," Ketz said.

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Hagberg says that's the goal of the corps.

"Our main goal is to expose these young people to these preservation trades and help build a pathway for them to learn skills and gain an interest in this work," Hagberg said. "If they're like me, once they get involved, they'll want to do it more and more."

For more information about the Northern Bedrock Historic Preservation Corps, visit www.northernbedrockconservationcorps.org .

Note (9-25-15): The Scandia Cemetary next to Glensheen is regularly mowed and maintained by John Bredeson.

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Technical specialist Jarrod Roll cleans a stone monument with crew leader Anne Ketz and crew member Meghan Weber at Scandia Cemetery in Duluth. (Photo by Rolf Hagberg)

Related Topics: HISTORY
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