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Proctor couple launches challenge to assist historic railroad museum

Kermit "Coke" Emberg was born and raised in Proctor and worked on the railroad during World War II, following in the footsteps of four generations of his family.

The Embergs
Coke and Pat Emberg dedicate a cornerstone and time capsule at the future site of the Proctor Area Historical Society Museum after the building was moved to its new location in 2011. As part of the Coke and Pat Emberg Dollar for Dollar Challenge, the couple will forgive $1 of their $32,000 loan to the museum for every additional dollar the museum receives in donations before Aug. 8. (Submitted photo)

Kermit "Coke" Emberg was born and raised in Proctor and worked on the railroad during World War II, following in the footsteps of four generations of his family.

Now Emberg, along with his wife Pat, is dedicated to preserving Proctor's long history in the railroad industry through a new museum that is scheduled to open this summer.

"It's nice to have something left to show from Proctor, when you see everything getting torn down and knocked down," he said. "If you really take a hard look at it, Duluth wouldn't be what it is without Proctor and the railroad."

While Emberg did not build a long career in the railroad industry, he did work on the rails while he was still attending school during the war, and countless family members and friends have earned a living on Proctor's rails.

"During the war, everybody was working on the railroad. We got out of school to work on the railroad," he said. "My whole family is from Proctor and it seems like everybody worked on the railroad."

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The Embergs are financial supporters of the Proctor Area Historical Society Museum, which is scheduled for a grand opening on Aug. 8. They previously gave $10,000 to the museum, followed by $25,000 as part of a fundraising challenge by which they matched contributions from other individual donors.

Now there's a new challenge. The Embergs loaned the museum $32,000 in July 2011 to finish the basement in the museum building, but they are now willing to forgive that loan. As part of the Coke and Pat Emberg Dollar for Dollar Challenge, they will subtract one dollar from the loan for every dollar that is donated to the museum before the Aug. 8 opening.

Jim Schwarzbauer, president of the Proctor Area Historical Society, said that funds raised through the challenge should help pay for the museum's final major expense, installing an elevator, which will cost about $25,500, in the two-story building.

"We could open without an elevator and not be handicapped-accessible, but they want to make sure we can make this happen," he said. "Without it, anybody who's in a wheelchair would be missing out on the upstairs of the building."

Schwarzbauer said he approached the Embergs about the possibility of forgiving the loan due to the success of the previous matching contribution challenge.

"They might have forgiven us that whole loan, but I said, 'Let's do a challenge.' This $32,000 loan becomes a $64,000 turnaround for us, and it gives us the opportunity to open up this summer," he said.

Assuming the fundraising goal is met, the Embergs will have donated a total of $67,000 to the museum. The historical society could have sought grants, but the process would have been much slower, Schwarzbauer said.

"We've gotten most of our money from people, Coke and Pat, and others," he said. "A lot of museums rely on grants, but we're getting it old-fashioned way."

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The museum has received corporate donations from Cliffs Natural Resources and Minnesota Power, Schwarzbauer said, but the rest has come from individuals.

Former U.S. Rep. Jim Oberstar, a longtime transportation advocate, is tentatively scheduled to deliver a keynote address and recognize the Embergs at the grand opening ceremony.

The museum has been in the works for years. It will be housed in a renovated 1927 building that formerly served as a car shop superintendent's office for the railroad. The 1,200-square-foot building was moved in September 2011 from its longtime location on CN property to its new home alongside Proctor's signature Yellowstone Mallet 225 steam locomotive.

Proctor received the locomotive on Aug. 8, 1963, and community members at the time promised to establish a museum. Now the city is poised to see that promise fulfilled, 50 years to the day after the engine arrived.

It will not only be Proctor's first museum, but also one that will pay homage to the industry that built the city, and serve as a visitors' bureau as well.

"If we can just raise enough money to finish up these last few projects, someday we're going to wake up and everything's going to be finished," Emberg said. "It's something that's going to be there for a long time."

Proctor museum building
The future Proctor Area Historical Society Museum, seen here last summer, is currently undergoing renovation. Funds raised through the Coke and Pat Emberg Dollar for Dollar Challenge will pay for an elevator to make the 86-year-old former car shop superintendent's office handicapped-accessible. (Submitted photo)

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