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In sesquicentennial video, Renville County residents tell their stories

OLIVIA -- To celebrate Renville County's 150th anniversary, Gail Miller turned not to the past and stories well-known but to the present. Miller, the county's recorder since 1989, took her iPad to locations all across the county. She interviewed ...

TOM CHERVENY | TRIBUNE Renville County Recorder Gail Miller interviewed a variety of county residents of different ages and walks of life to tell the county's story as it celebrates its 150th anniversary.
TOM CHERVENY | TRIBUNE Renville County Recorder Gail Miller interviewed a variety of county residents of different ages and walks of life to tell the county's story as it celebrates its 150th anniversary.

OLIVIA - To celebrate Renville County's 150th anniversary, Gail Miller turned not to the past and stories well-known but to the present.

Miller, the county's recorder since 1989, took her iPad to locations all across the county. She interviewed people from a variety of ages and walks of lives and recorded their stories. "That's what makes up our county,'' she said of the variety of people she met.

Miller put their stories together in a video of just over an hour's length. "Life in Renville County'' is being featured on the county's website as part of its sesquicentennial celebration this year.

"What was amazing to me was how people opened up to me, and told me their stories,'' said Miller. "I mean, many of these people I had never met before and they really opened up to me.''

And they had some really amazing stories to boot.

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Anton Kosak told her about walking ahead of the snowplow so the ambulance could reach a neighbor (and save his life) during a blinding snowstorm.

Curtis Sampson talked about bringing telephone service to communities along U.S. Highway 212 on a single line of copper.

Fifth-generation farmer Jacob Rieke explained how he uses his GPS and computer to farm the land that had been broken by his pioneer ancestors.

Richard Loftness explained how his love for tinkering led him to leave the farm for a shop in Hector because he needed more room. Sixty years later that "shop'' is an 80,000-square-foot complex known as Loftness Manufacturing.

Many had stories related to the wild swings of weather in the county, from Steve Agre's account of a tornado ripping through the family's farmstead near Sacred Heart to Les Heen's account of the 1975 Super Bowl blizzard. The family of one of Heen's neighbors was filled with worry. Their loved one never answered his phone and no one dared venture out to check on him.

The Heen's figured out the party line phones would ring, but could not be answered. Sure enough, when they could check on their neighbor they discovered he had weathered the storm well. But he was sure tired of his phone ringing, ringing and ringing.

In all, the video features interviews with 23 residents, ages ranging from 14 to 95. Ray Ferguson is the senior of the group. He recalled being paid 25 cents a day to drive a team of horses.

Kaitlyn Larang is the 14-year-old, but her story of growing up in Renville County comes with a thread that connects right back to Ferguson. Both speak optimistically about the county and where it's going.

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"I don't know why Renville County can't do any and everything (it) wants to,'' said Ferguson, when asked what he sees for the county's future.

Miller said with a few exceptions, most of those she interviewed shared a positive outlook about life in the county. And to be sure, most of those interviewed spoke of the county's agricultural heritage and expect it will continue to be the county's future.

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