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Melanie Wehrmacher and Stephen Pearce from the Science Museum of Minnesota prepare for their "Suitcase Science" presentation Saturday during Buffalo Days in Luverne. (Brian Korthals/Daily Globe)

Luverne revels in its buffalo

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LUVERNE -- A cool blustery wind and the occasional stray raindrop couldn't dampen spirits at the area's first big festival of the summer season -- Luverne's Buffalo Days. The parade went on as planned mid-morning Saturday, and then eager festival-goers headed over to the city park, where more than 100 vendors of food, crafts and other assorted goods awaited them.

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In one of the park's shelters, Melanie Wehrmacher and Stephen Pearce, actors employed by the Science Museum of Minnesota in St. Paul, were setting up for a production of "Suitcase Science." Funded through the state's Legacy amendment, the project is winding down after a three-year stint both at the museum and on the road. The theatrical duo had already been in Luverne for a couple of days, doing presentations at the library and senior facilities, and were preparing for their last two engagements. They were undaunted by the weather.

"This is the first trip we've had this year where it hasn't been snowing," said Wehrmacher, recalling recent stints in venues farther north, "so this is an improvement."

"Suitcase Science" was developed as a multifaceted production using artifacts gathered from around the state to showcase different areas of science as well as arts and history. Wehrmacher and Pearce serve as "artifact whisperers," relating a story told from the perspective of each object. The objects are showcased on a stack of suitcases, and audience members choose the items about which they want to learn. At Saturday's show, the suitcase pyramid included a walrus tusk, a stuffed wolf, a tin of Badger Balm, a clarinet and a copy of the iconic Betty Crocker cookbook.

In most cases, the items are replicas of the items originally submitted for the project, as they are often near and dear to their owner's hearts.

"His grandfather hunted it in 1898," explained Pearce about the gentleman who submitted the walrus tusk. "We're not going to take that from him."

The format is entertaining and educational for all ages, stressed the actors.

"Kids are going to learn something new, but the adults will find it interesting, too," said Pearce.

While Wehrmacher and Pearce are only able to "whisper" the stories of a few of the items during their presentations, the full array is contained in a companion book to the project, available for checkout at the Luverne library, they noted.

The parade and another popular event diverted attention away from the first "Suitcase Science" presentation of the day, but Wehrmacher and Pearce were hopeful they'd draw a bigger crowd in the afternoon.

"We've never had to compete with a buffalo chip-throwing contest before," said Wehrmacher wryly. "But that's why live theater is more interesting."

As the crowd filtered over from the parade, the many vendors began to see more action. Of particular interest to the locals was a display by local photographer Greg Hoogeveen, which featured some iconic images of Luverne and the surrounding area.

"A lot of these are from the Blue Mounds and the city," explained Hoogeveen, who dabbled with photography in high school and college,and now runs a sideline business called digitellstudio. "I do graphic design every day in Sioux Falls, so this is just a hobby that grew again."

One of the prints that drew attention was a panoramic of the Blue Mounds, which Hoogeveen created by digitally combining 12 separate images.

"My son and I were just out walking," said Hoogeveen, detailing how he snapped pictures at various locations to get the effect. "There are two people sitting up here," he pointed out tiny figures at the top of the stony ridge, "to show you the scale."

Across the park, Luverne native Todd Henderson, now of White Bear Lake, and friend Patrick Saxton were marketing an outdoor game called Big Birdie Golf through a company called Hendo Sports. A twist on the beanbag and ladder ball concepts, it features a golf ball mounted onto a badminton shuttlecock, which can either be hit with a golf club or thrown at a net-like target.

"We know the guy who invented it," explained Saxton. "He lives in Grand Rapids, Mich., and we talked him into making some for us to sell here. We use it for tailgating at Gopher games."

Also on tap Saturday at Buffalo Days were a puppet show, musical entertainment, a motorcycle ride and tae kwon do demonstrations. The festival continued Sunday with a community worship service and "Hoe-Down" fundraiser event for the Rock County Historical Society at the Rock County Fairgrounds.

Daily Globe Features Editor Beth Rickers can be reached at 376-7327.

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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 http://lagniappe.areavoices.com/.  
(507) 376-7327
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