'My, you're beautiful': Jasper historian receives lifetime achievement award

Geraldine Pedersen exhibits her recent project about Jasper WWII POW Norbert De Pauw. (Leah Ward // The Globe)

JASPER — Geraldine Pedersen, 94, of Jasper is being honored with a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Minnesota Alliance of Local History Museums.

Alliance Coordinator Dustin Heckman explained that MALHM is a statewide alliance comprising more than 500 organizations, plus individual members. Nominations for the Lifetime Achievement Award are open for members each year. Criteria include at least 25 years of service and evidence of regional, state or national impact.

Pedersen was nominated this year by her colleague Elicia Kortus, president of Jasper’s Reclaim Community, an organization Pedersen helped establish and one she consults with on some projects.

“We have huge gaps in our where-did-we-come-from stories,” Kortus explained, “and people like (Pedersen) keep these stories alive.”

Pedersen is able to preserve Jasper’s history because she has lived it.


“My life has always been the town and the people,” she said.

Pedersen began recordkeeping when she was around 10 years old. “(A love for history) is something you’re born with,” she reflected.

Pedersen’s freshman class was the first to use the Jasper School after its construction in 1938. She remembers being particularly impressed with the gym and the auditorium — luxuries they hadn’t had previously.

After high school, Pedersen spent a year at South Dakota State University. Although she had an uncle there who was a professor of printing and journalism, Pedersen was planning to become a teacher and never took a class from him.

After that year, Pedersen returned to Jasper and was hired by the Davidson family to collect a history of Jasper’s sioux quartzite quarry.

Her uncle Aaron was the quarry foreman, and Pederson was discussing with him one day how difficult the research was and how frustrating the process could be. She was almost ready to give up.

Then her uncle told her something that sticks in her mind today: “If you don’t do it, it’ll be lost.” Pedersen still lives by that philosophy.

In the 1960s, Pedersen got a job at the Jasper Journal, where she had to call around and find local news stories. Later, she became the newspaper’s editor.


“I learned the newspaper trade by osmosis,” she said — a skill that has served her well throughout her life. Her self-education has made all of her curating work possible.

Pedersen’s column was called “By the Way.” She made it her goal to never write a column about herself, but always about the town and the people.

After she retired from the journalism business in 1978, Pedersen was approached by fellow Jasper native Les Carlson, a retired lieutenant colonel who wanted to begin a local historical society.

Carlson was able to purchase the building the Jasper Journal had vacated, and the Jasper Historical Museum opened in 1981 — with Pedersen as a charter member of the historical society.

Since then, Pedersen has been compiling Jasper’s history in three-ring binders organized topically and ranging from the town’s first homesteaders in the 1880s to 21st century developments.

So far, she has completed 40 binders, some up to 200 pages long — all of which she has typed on her typewriter. She is currently working on the history of Jasper’s churches and plans to focus on the town’s founder next.

Pedersen characterizes her love for Jasper’s history with a story from her own past.

She was walking the grounds of the Jasper School with her late husband and her sister. Her husband, Earl, pointed out a place along the outer rock wall — about waist height — that was smoother and shinier than the rest. He asked Pedersen’s sister if she knew what that was from.


“It’s from Gerry,” he continued, “running her finger along the wall and telling it, ‘My, you’re beautiful.’”

Years later, Pedersen said she still feels that way. “My, you’re beautiful” is how she feels about the school and about Jasper. In her mind, “My, you’re beautiful” also means, “My, we were lucky. My, we were happy.”

Pedersen recalls these memories most fondly when Jasper alums return for a class reunion and pay her a visit.

“That’s the fun part for me,” she said.

Heckman and Kortus explained just what a big impact Pedersen’s work has.

“Local history feeds into state and national trends,” Heckman said, noting that it has become a tool for economic development, tourism and planning. “(It) also gives context for the past and helps us react to the future.”

“Without having local history preserved, we miss out on local people, local stories that make up the majority of the country and who we can identify with,” Kortus added.

People had the same desires and needs that we have now, even if their struggles were different, she said.

Kortus explained that Pedersen’s work has made possible the “listing of six of Jasper's historic buildings on the National Register of Historic Places, not a small feat for a town of only 633” — seven including the Jasper School, which just last week was accepted by the Minnesota State Historical Preservation Office.

Kortus further described Pedersen as “the most humble, ordinary and committed person.”

“She is truly a gem,” Kortus continued, “and we are so proud of her and know that she certainly deserves (the Lifetime Achievement award).”

Pedersen will receive the award at the Minnesota Alliance of Local History Museums annual conference April 25 at Treasure Island Resort & Casino.

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