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Putting local history into words

Dorothy Gruber Quam recalls life on the family farm in the 1940s and ’50s in her book, “A Round Barn and a Pond Full of Frogs.” She and three others will sign books Nov. 26 at the Goodhue County History Center.

By Ruth Nerhaugen 

Dorothy Gruber Quam wrote about growing up on a local farm; Ann Treacy created a mystery set in Goodhue County; Sharon Nelson created an inventory of early Red Wing businesses; and Heidi Bacon illustrated the story of lefse-making.

The three authors and illustrator will share their stories Nov. 26 at a Holiday Open House at the Goodhue County History Center, 1166 Oak St.

They will talk about their projects and sign copies of the books, which will be for sale at the museum, between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m.

Quam's story, "A Round Barn and a Pond Full of Frogs," was the fulfillment of a promise to herself that when she retired, she was going to sit down and write the book she had talked about for years.

The Welch Township native graduated from Red Wing Central High School in 1956, married and raised three children, then wrote for the Republican Eagle for 13 years. Her second career took her to the Twin Cities, where she now lives.

"It took about five years" to write the book, working on it mostly during the winter months, Quam said. "All the photographs in the book are family photos," she added. She felt they worked best to illustrate what she was talking out.

New local history books are among the featured items at the Goodhue County Historical Society's 2016 holiday open house Nov. 26.

The softcover book, subtitled "A Minnesota Farm Girl Remembers the 1940s and '50s," is 110 pages of reminiscences that will be nostalgic for others who had similar experiences, and informative for anyone who grew up in town — or during a later era.

"That's a balance I tried to strike," she said. Her goal was to write a story that would be interesting for any reader.

Her tale begins when she was about 4 years old, mimicking her farmer father as he went about chores, and concludes when she was 14, traveling all the way to Red Wing to attend Central High School.

For much of her childhood, Quam lived in relative isolation. Her mother did not drive, and she made up for the lack of playmates by inventing a family with 13 imaginary children.

Quam vividly describes the family home and the unique round barn that distinguished the Gruber farm. In photos and text, she recalls activities such as haying, raising livestock, acquiring electrical service, harvesting crops, surviving harsh weather, celebrating holidays and more.

School days are detailed — first at a one-room school then at the larger Welch School. That chapter was especially challenging, Quam said, because she needed photos showing what Welch looked like when she was a little girl. Welch historians and the Goodhue County Historical Society staff helped with research, as did several family members.

Quam will be one of the first featured authors Nov. 26. She will sign books from 10 a.m. to noon, and will speak briefly at 10:50 a.m.

The rest of the event schedule follows:

• Ann Treacy, Duluth, Minn., will sign books from 10 a.m. to noon and speak at 10:20 a.m. Her softcover book, "The Search for the Homestead Treasure," is a mystery for young people set in Goodhue County.

It's the story of 14-year-old Martin Gunnarsson, who comes with his family to the farm they inherited. He discovers the diary of a Swedish ancestor who wrote that a treasure was hidden somewhere on the farm.

According to a reviewer, "(Treacy) brings to vivid life the hardship and rewards of early 20th century rural Minnesota." Some details were inspired by articles printed in the Red Wing Daily Republican between 1895 and 1898. Museum staff also assisted with research.

• Sharon Nelson, Red Wing, will sign books from noon to 2 p.m. and speak at 1 p.m. She is the author of "Early Red Wing Businesses Street by Street," "Red Wing's Early Neighborhood Grocery Stores and Meat Markets," and "Frontenac Station: The Early Years."

Nelson spent hundreds of hours over four years doing research for her first book on early businesses. The almost 600-page book covers some 3,000 businesses that operated between the 1850s and 1940s.

She was intrigued by a photo of an early Red Wing store in the Republican Eagle and went to the county museum to look it up. Since she had retired from Jostens Diploma Division, Nelson decided to make it her hobby.

• Heidi Thaldorf Bacon will sign books from noon to 2 p.m. and speak at 12:30 p.m. She illustrated "My Grandma Makes Lefse," which was written by her sister, Becky Thaldorf Latka.

The hardcover children's picture book describes in words and drawings what it is like to make lefse the way their great-great-grandmother did.

Bacon illustrates all the essential equipment as well as the process of boiling and ricing the potatoes, rolling the rounds and cooking them on a griddle, then eating them warm with butter and sugar.

During the Holiday Open House, admission to the book signings in the lobby and to the gift shop is free; admission will be charged to tour the rest of the History Center. For more information, call the museum or visit the website

If you go...

Who: Authors, illustrator

What: Holiday Open House

When: 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Nov. 26

Where: Goodhue County History Center

More info: 651-388-6024 or