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The Good Book: Family Bible undergoes four-month restoration

Chuck and Shirley Barkuloo display Shirley’s family Bible, which is open to the family record section. (Brian Korthals/Daily Globe)1 / 3
The Lord’s Prayer in Norwegian is one of the most colorful plates in the Bible. (Brian Korthals/Daily Globe)2 / 3
The leather binding of the book is restored to its former luster. (Brian Korthals/Daily Globe)3 / 3

By the time the family Bible came into Shirley Barkuloo’s possession, it was already falling apart. To keep it from losing any of its precious pages and prevent further deterioration, she put it away for safekeeping — in a pillowcase.

“I don’t know much about it,” she said about the aged tome. “I think my grandmother brought it over from Norway.”

Shirley remembers her grandmother, Bridt Branstad Peterson, but knows few details about her immigration to the United States, or for sure if the Bible came with her.

“I know that they lived near Trondheim,” at the base of a mountain in Norway, shared Shirley. “My grandma used to herd the cows up there. She used to sing to them to keep the bears away. At least I think it was bears — some sort of wild animal. … An avalanche came down the mountain and wiped out the family farm. She came here because she had a brother who had already come over.”

After a short stint as a housekeeper in Sioux Falls, S.D., Bridt settled in northwest Iowa and married Ole Peterson. Shirley knows even less about her grandfather and how he came to be in the U.S., although his name certainly denotes Norwegian heritage, too. Shirley’s mother, Anna Peterson, married Albert Erickson.

“I’m pretty sure I’m 100 percent Norwegian,” said Shirley with a laugh.

Of course, Shirley’s memories of her grandparents date to long after they had settled on a farm in northwest Iowa.

“We always had to go and visit every Sunday,” she explained. “Grandma always had a yellow layer cake with white frosting. And she was bigger than my grandpa — not fat, but just sturdy. They were so funny. Grandma was the serious one, and he was funny. My mother would sit next to Grandpa, and they would get each other going, and Grandma would stand up like this and say, ‘Now you stop that!’”

One family tale of note involved her grandparents’ encounter with some Native Americans.

“They lived on a farm near Leland, and it was all mud roads,” Shirley related. “Well, here comes an Indian with his wife and child, I suppose in a wagon, and they got stuck in the mud. So Grandpa went out to help him get it unstuck, and Grandma invited the woman and child into the house and gave them some cake. I think that was pretty unusual at the time.”

Beginning with her grandparents’ marriage, the family line is recorded in the big leather-bound Norwegian-language Bible — births, marriages, deaths. Shirley’s mother, Anna, was the keeper of the Bible during her lifetime, but eventually it was passed along to Shirley and relegated to a pillowcase.

For years, Shirley and husband Chuck (whose own ancestry is Dutch) lamented the condition of the Bible, but had no idea how to go about fixing it.

“I asked the gals over at the church, since I thought maybe they might have had to have some hymnals fixed or something, but they had no idea,” said Chuck. “They suggested I should check at the library, so I did that, and they came up with the name of this person.”

The name given to Chuck was that of Derek Magnus, print shop supervisor at the South Dakota State Penitentiary in Sioux Falls. Book restoration is one of the trades practiced in the prison work program, called Pheasantland Industries Bookbindery.

“The Bookbindery has been around for a very long time here at the penitentiary,” explained Magnus in an email. “Most of the books we restore range from 100 to 125 years old. We restore around four to six of the bigger, older family Bibles each year. To date, the oldest restored Bible has been around 300 years old.”

The Barkuloos got in touch with Magnus and were told to drop off the Bible at the warden’s home/reception area at the penitentiary.

“So we left it there,” explained Chuck, “and probably got home about noon that day. About a half hour later, we got a call. He had already looked at the Bible and said it’s going to take a while, probably about three or four months, and gave us a price.”

The Barkuloos agreed to the quote and waited for the process to be completed. According to Magnus, the time it takes to complete a restoration depends on the severity of damage.

“Time is a key factor in the restoration process,” he explained. “We may work 30 minutes on a book one day and then have to let it sit for 24 hours. The most delicate work is with the pages. Sometimes the pages are so fragile from exposure to the elements or handling over the years, you have to handle them with great care.

“In most cases, the cover needs to be removed so that pages can be rebundled,” he continued. “The pages are realigned, glued, sewn, and the spine is prepared to be reattached to the cover. We try to preserve as much of the cover as possible while integrating new material with the old. Once the cover has been reattached, we use leather rejuvenator and dye to bring back the cover’s natural brilliance. The three keys to a successful restoration: time, experience, and patience.”

For restorations such as the Barkuloos’ Bible, there is one inmate who does the work and “enjoys helping people,” Magnus credited. “I also have a couple of inmates who do the more standard bindings or rebindings such as hardbound church bulletins, newspapers and textbooks.”

About four months after the Barkuloos dropped it off, the restored Bible was delivered to their home via parcel service. They were astounded by the result.

“It was just such a transformation from what it was to what it is now,” Chuck said. “I called him right away.”

“And I wrote a note right away,” added Shirley, “saying how I wished my mother could have seen this.”

The Barkuloos’ Bible has been restored to its former glory. The leather cover has the soft luster of age, but is once again intact and attached to the spine. The elaborate scripted title on the front in gold ink is decipherable as Den Hellige Skrift — The Holy Scriptures. The pages are all bound together, and even the tattered ones have been encased in a plastic material to prevent further crumbling.

Now, the Barkuloos can page through the restored Bible, look up dates in Shirley’s family history and appreciate the heritage that is contained within its pages. They don’t comprehend the Norwegian words, but appreciate the Bible’s pictorial features, including engravings of the apostles, a botanical listing of plants, several colorful paintings and a brightly hued Norwegian rendition of “The Lord’s Prayer.”

The Bible is once again a treasured family heirloom that has a place of honor on a wooden pedestal in the Barkuloos’ dining room.

For Magnus and his crew at the penitentiary, there’s a satisfaction in preserving such pieces of history.

“I often get calls and letters of thanks for the work that we do, and the inmates enjoy hearing that they made a difference in people’s lives,” reported Magnus. “We recently received a call from a customer who was crying because she never thought her family Bible would look so nice and that her family history would be preserved. It touched everyone’s heart that we could have such a positive effect on someone’s life.”

For more information on book restoration at Pheasantland Industries Bookbindery, contact Magnus at (605) 367-5064; or visit the website,

Daily Globe Features Editor Beth Rickers

can be reached at 376-7327.

Beth Rickers

Beth Rickers is the veteran in the newspaper staff with 25 years as the Daily Globe's Features Editor. Interests include cooking, traveling and beer tasting and making with her home-brewing husband, Bryan. She writes an Area Voices blog called Lagniappe, which is a Creole term that means "a little something extra." It can be found at  

(507) 376-7327