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Museum Politics in Viborg
May 14, 2015
“History is recorded by the victors,” said Winston Churchill.
“History is made by those who show up,” said Benjamin Disraeli, a 19th century Israeli leader. Combine his quote with Churchill’s and you have the answer to why the wonderful and not-so-little Daneville Heritage Museum in Viborg has such a nice collection of Democratic memorabilia.
We spent a morning this week in Viborg, working on a story that will be published in our July/August issue. This is an 800-population boom town in Turner County, one of the more Republican conclaves to be found in East River, South Dakota (not that Republican conclaves are rare by any means in the state). The well-kept little downtown has a hardware store, three restaurants, bank, hospital, grocery store, vintage auto restoration shop, historic movie theater and all the other amenities you might expect. Towns 10 times Viborg's size don’t have all that downtown.
And it has a wonderful museum that actually has a decent revenue stream. “We joke sometimes that the museum will be here long after the town,” says Rich Skola, who directs the facility. That’s because of the generosity of many local individuals and families, but especially because of Alphie “Toots" Peterson, an avid historian who donated much time and money.
Her husband, Merle, ran as a Democratic candidate for state legislature in the 1960s when Ralph Herseth and George McGovern were leading a resurgence of the party. She died two years ago, at age 94, leaving the museum some of her assets. She’s perhaps one reason why the Daneville museum has a 1960 poster of the Democratic ticket, with photos of Merle and McGovern and all the other candidates — along with a big poster of McGovern, plus an exhibit of Hubert H. Humphrey and other Democratic memorabilia.
Somewhere in the museum, there’s an Eisenhower collector’s plate, says Skola. A few visitors have kidded about the space given to Democrats in a Republican county. But nobody really seems to be bothered by the exhibits.
And it’s not that Turner County voters won’t elect Democrats. Roberta Rasmussen, a local farmer and activist, represented the district in the 1990s. Roberta has also been active with the local museum, and Skola says she may be more responsible for the Democratic paraphernalia than Toots. More recently, grocer Tom Jones was the state senator from Viborg.
So just show up, as Disraeli said 200 years ago. And save your posters and bumper stickers.
Note — In the spirit of complete transparency, we should note that the writer is a Democratic state senator from nearby Yankton County. That might help to explain his undue fascination with the above subject matter.