Local author S. Roy Kaufman and HHM&A director Marnette (Ortman) Hofer talk about his latest book.
Local author blends prehistory, birth, growth, maturity, decline and rebirth in review of a rural community
FREEMAN: A large threshing machine was the backdrop for a stimulating conversation about the agrarian roots – as well as the future – of a rural South Dakota community at Heritage Hall Museum & Archives in Freeman last week.
Local author S. Roy Kaufman sat down with Marnette (Ortman) Hofer, executive director and archivist of the Freeman museum Tuesday morning, Nov. 24, to talk about his latest book, The Drama of a Rural Community's Life Cycle. The conversation, fittingly held in the agricultural exhibit area in the Unruh-Tieszen wing of the museum, was recorded by Nathan Schrag for the museum and is available on the museum's YouTube channel: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oXXVFQqA3uM&feature=youtu.be
"We wish we could have done this as a public event," Hofer says, "but in the interest of health and safety in the current environment, we're sharing this using social media."
Kaufman describes the book as "an attempt to chronicle the birth, growth, maturity, decline and rebirth of the larger Freeman community."
Kaufman has a deep and abiding interest in the history of the Freeman community. He grew up on a farm in rural Freeman and, after pastoring five rural churches in Canada and the United States, returned and retired here. He has been curator at the museum for the past eight years. He also brings a philosophic and ethical perspective shaped by his experiences serving rural congregations for four decades.
"Agrarian cultures always carry in their life the agricultural wisdom and the faith heritage and values that form their cultural life," he says. "Rural communities are always a work in progress at some stage of their life cycle.”
"We wanted to get an inside peek at his motivations and to learn a bit more about why he put it together," Hofer said of the conversation she had with Kaufman. "We wanted to know why he thought it was important to write this book."
The conversation reveals all of that and more.
Kaufman talks about his personal history and growing interest in rural culture and his evolving views and perspectives.
“Agrarian culture is shaped by the way that people relate to the land – how they farm,” he says, noting that even within a given community, there are differences and unique approaches to agriculture based on values and faith perspectives.
“To understand the culture, you have to understand these communities … how they function and how they live.”
In the introduction to his book, Kaufman writes "This book and the story it tells are designed to describe some of the dynamics that enable rural communities and agrarian cultures to survive and thrive even in the midst of the imperial forces that have always exploited and oppressed them."
Kaufman begins with a focus on the land and then delves into the evolving relationship between the inhabitants of the earth and the earth itself. He explores the native culture that was here before immigrants arrived in the 1800s and the "doctrine of discovery." The middle section of the book looks at how the Freeman community matured in the 20th century – what was gained and what was lost. The final section is centered around both challenges and successes of efforts to revitalize the community in the current century.
"The agrarian cultures of the Freeman community are at a crucial time in their nearly 150-year history on this land," Kaufman said. "Local agrarian cultures need to re-invent themselves, both as local cultures and as agricultural entities in order to build a renewed rural community."
"I appreciate that he took this big view and then zeroed in the details," Hofer says. "That seems key to me."
Hofer likens Kaufman's approach to a device commonly used in film – opening with the wide shot and increasingly narrowly focusing on a specific area.
"It almost feels cinematic," she says. "It's like these satellite views of the universe and you see the Earth; you zoom in and see North America. Then further you see the Great Plains, southeastern South Dakota and then down to Freeman.
"To fully understand this community, we need the wider view, not just each of the little stories. You realize you're just a pebble in such a vast universe," she said. "But," she adds, "every moving piece affects the rest."
"At their best," Kaufman says, "agricultures understand they are called by the creator to participate in the unfolding of creation and life for the welfare of the whole creation."
"Our calling as humans is not to manage the world. It is rather to grow in our understanding of our place within the drama of life and reaction in which we find ourselves."
"His book runs the gamut – from pure history to theological implications; it's all-encompassing," Hofer says. "I appreciate how well researched it is and how thoroughly documented his history pieces are.
"It's almost a love letter to his home community," she says. "You feel his passion for the community. You feel his voice and it's a lonely voice."
Kaufman acknowledges that in the book.
"I often felt quite lonely, like a voice crying out in the wilderness," he writes.
"I respect the choices every farmer makes for his or her operation," Kaufman says. "There is no right way to farm and rural communities like Freeman are on a journey of discovery, as the changes in agricultural technology for the past century has shown. When we observe clearly harmful effects of our agricultural practices on the soil, plants, and animals in our care, we need to keep exploring other ways to farm. No one is to blame for how they farm. The failures, if such they be, are communal rather than personal. But together we can keep exploring agricultural practices that mitigate the damage agriculture can inflict on the soil, plants, and animals in our care."
But, he continues, "I finally began to realize that I was not alone."
Kaufman writes about the emergence of Rural Revival, a non-profit organization that meshes with his perspectives and includes "like-minded farmers and community members for support, networking and collaboration."
While the book focuses on Freeman – with a specific focus on the Mennonite church community here – Kaufman and Hofer agree the message goes far beyond that.
"The story is universal," Hofer said. “This is a scenario that plays out all over the world. It is a ‘drama’ that that plays out all over the world.”
“Birth, growth, life, death,” Kaufman says. “It’s a continual process and we’re all in it somewhere. It’s a challenge for us to figure out where we are in the drama. Which act are we in? Is it death or is it a new birth?”
In addition to resonating with area residents because of the local history and stories, Kaufman believes his book will appeal to those interested in South Dakota history, faith communities, educators, community developers, conservationists and, of course, those in the ag industry.
The timing of the interview – two days before Thanksgiving – is not coincidental.
"This is a traditional time to give thanks," Hofer says. "But it's also a time to reflect on not only what we have but to use what we have in responsible ways."
In the final chapter of his book, Kaufman writes this.
"Traditional agrarian cultures throughout the world and throughout history understand food to be sacred. It is sacred because it is the stuff of life; it is what sustains human life. It is sacred because its presence is always perceived to be gift, something given to us in a sacred and mysterious process of growth. We plant seeds and till the plants for food, but we have no ability to make seeds grow or plants produce their crop. We breed and tend animals for the food products they offer to us, but their lives are always a gift given to us and for us."
Kaufman is donating proceeds from his book to Heritage Hall Museum & Archives. It is for sale there as well as online at Amazon.com.
FREEMAN: For more than a century, Heritage Hall Museum and Archives (HHM&A) has been collecting and sharing the rich history of the greater Freeman community.
But recently, the non-profit organization has been collecting and sharing the rich “present” of the greater Freeman community.
“About a year ago we decided to give local artisans the opportunity to display and sell their wares in our museum,” explains Marnette (Ortman) Hofer, Executive Director and Archivist at HHM&A, which traces its roots back to Freeman College in 1911.
The HHM&A Mercantile was established last year in the lobby of the museum and has expanded in the months that followed. Today, it includes a wide array of items created by people who live here or have ties to the community. For example, you’ll find stained glass from Heidi Schrag, note cards from Polly Waltner and scarves from Kevin Gross. There are knitted items, birdhouses and art prints. There are books by authors who grew up in this community including Rodney Hofer, Jim Kaufman, S. Roy Kaufman and John D. Unruh Jr. You can learn more at heritagehallmuseum.com/museum-mercantile.
“We’re thrilled to support the creativity of these authors and artists,” Hofer says. “Our mission is to preserve and celebrate the lives of the people of this community and this is a natural extension of that mission.”
All items are sold by consignment and proceeds from the sale help support that mission, she explained.
The mercantile also includes T-shirts and notecards from the museum as well as items celebrating the South Dakota Chislic Festival. You can find a sample of items at http://heritagehallmuseum.com/museum-mercantile .
HHM&A is open from noon to 4 p.m., Mondays through Fridays except on holidays; winter hours continue through April. Hours are expanded May through September.
The mercantile and the archives are open to the public at no charge; anyone wanting research assistance is encouraged to call 605-925-7545 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. There is an admission fee to tour the museum
HHM&A is taking precautions because of COVID-19. Groups are limited to 10 or less, guests will be staggered and are asked to wear masks.
Additional information about the museum’s history and displays is available online at heritagehallmuseum.com and on the Heritage Hall Museum and Archives Facebook page.
FREEMAN: Heritage Hall Museum and Archives (HHM&A) has transitioned to winter hours. The facility, located at 880 S. Cedar on the southwest side of Freeman, is now open from noon to 4 p.m., Mondays through Fridays except on holidays through the month of April. This is the second year the museum and archives are open to the public throughout the year; prior to 2019 the museum was open only by appointment during the winter months and the archives had limited hours. HHM&A is also open daily from May through September.
“We feel it’s important to be open to anyone interested in history regardless of the season,” says Marnette (Ortman) Hofer, Executive Director and Archivist at HHM&A, which traces its roots back to the winter term of Freeman College in 1911.
Today, HHM&A operates as an independent organization, boasting one of the region's largest and most diverse collections representing the heritage and history of the greater Freeman community.
“Being available to visitors – whether they’re local residents or people visiting from other states – is an important part of our mission,” Hofer says.
Although there is an admission fee to tour the museum, the archives are open to the public at no charge; anyone wanting research assistance is encouraged to call 605-925-7545 or email email@example.com.
HHM&A is taking precautions because of COVID-19. Groups are limited to 10 or less, guests will be staggered and are strongly encouraged to wear masks.
Additional information is available online at heritagehallmuseum.com and on the Heritage Hall Museum and Archives Facebook page.
HHM&A shares local immigration story
The non-profit museum tells the story of Germans-from-Russia immigrants and others who settled in southeastern Dakota Territory in the 1870s. More than 25,000 square feet of displays feature everything from old cars and buggies to Native American artifacts to agricultural equipment to local business history to household items and musical instruments.
The archives library includes more than 10,000 books, maps, periodicals and photos documenting a wide range of history from the Freeman community and beyond.
The complex is located south of the Freeman Academy campus and sits on the northern edge of the sprawling Prairie Arboretum. It includes four historic buildings: a one-room school house, an 1879 pioneer home and two early rural churches.
HHM&A recently established a “Museum Mercantile,” a small gift shop that features the work of local artisans and books of local interest. It is open to the public during regular museum/archives hours.
You can find a sample of items at http://heritagehallmuseum.com/museum-mercantile .
Copyright © Heritage Hall Museum & Archives | 605.929.7545 | firstname.lastname@example.org | 800 S Cedar St, Freeman, SD 57029
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Heritage Hall Museum in Freeman is a South Dakota museum which tells the story of the German-Russian immigrants and others who settled in Southeastern Dakota territory in the 1870s.