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'Cast' is finalized for Tuesday's Solstice Cemetery Walk at Oak Grove

This Tuesday, June 20 is the Summer Solstice, and the Becker County Museum is celebrating by hosting its first-ever Cemetery Walk at Oak Grove Cemetery, starting at 7 p.m.

Fifteen amateur thespians from Detroit Lakes and surrounding communities have agreed to help "bring Becker County's history to life" by depicting some of Oak Grove's denizens — from the well known pioneers of the community, to others who, while their names may not be quite as familiar, have an interesting story to tell.

E.G. Holmes, Norby's Department Store co-founder Gustav Norby and Blanding's Department Store founder Arthur Blanding, Lewis Hotel proprietor — and patriotic activist — Mary Lewis, and the founder of DL's first hospital, Dr. Leonard Weeks are just a few of the more well-known figures who will depicted as part of the Cemetery Walk, which is expected to last about 90 minutes.

"We will also have family-friendly activities, and refreshments will be served," says museum director Becky Mitchell, whose 10-year-old daughter Emma was a late addition to the "cast."

"Emma became interested in the Cemetery Walk after attending a meeting," said Mitchell. "After the meeting she decided that she would really like to be a part of the event.

"We had a bit of a 'gap' between gravesites where the actors would be located, so the search was on to find a younger person buried in that area," she continued. "Lanny Rock's name was mentioned and Emma was intrigued. She worked with Kayla (Schirmer, museum assistant) one day and found a bit of information, then spent the entire weekend searching for more online.

"Emma has participated in past Missoula Children's Theater and Prairie Fire productions, and she's pretty excited to portray a figure from Becker County's past." Other Lake Park-area residents who will be involved in the production include Mary Lewis, who not uncoincidentally, will be portraying Mary Lewis; and three members of the Grabinger family — mom Toni and her daughters, Erin and Elise — along with a familiar face from LP-A High School music and theater productions, Kevin Bjorgan.

Toni Grabinger will be the mistress of ceremonies for the evening, greeting visitors as they arrive at the cemetery and giving them some interesting facts about its background, while Erin and Elise will be portraying two women who, while not well-known, are a unique part of the region's history.

Erin will play the role of Emima Combacker Fagerberg, who was Minnesota's first licensed female pharmacist, while Elise is portraying Dr. Emma Ogden, who was the first woman doctor in Minnesota and practiced medicine in Detroit Lakes for over 30 years. Though Ogden is not buried at Oak Grove, her history is closely tied to that of Fagerberg, who was buried there. More information about why these two women were so closely associated with each other will be revealed at the Cemetery Walk.

Museum board members Cecil Ballard and John Wood will also be part of the cast: Wood and his wife, Connie, will be portraying John Edward Wood and his wife, Agnes, while Ballard is tackling the role of Norby's Department Store co-founder Gustav John Norby, who is also a past Becker County sheriff, Detroit Lakes mayor and state representative.

"I've always been a history buff," says Ballard, who is currently serving as president of the museum board. "I live in a 100-year-old house, and I collect antiques... this is another unique way of presenting our county's history to the community. When this gets off the ground, it might be something that happens every summer."

Michelle Peterson, who will be portraying Marie (Mrs. L.J.) Norby, said that she was interested in portraying one of the Norbys because she is a direct descendant of the family.

"I'm related to the Norby's,and my grandparents and many other relatives are buried there (at Oak Grove)," she said. "It's part of my family's history, so when I heard about this (cemetery walk), I was interested in being involved."

Rick Johnson, who is portraying one of Detroit Lakes' more famous early entrepreneurs, John Kingsbury West, said he was intrigued by the idea of playing the part of someone who is known as "the father of the Detroit Lakes tourism industry."

"He tied our lakes together (by financing the region's first lock-and-dam system) and did a lot of interesting things," Johnson added.

Rounding out the cast will be Don Blanding (Arthur Melvin Blanding), Lynn Hummel (E.G. Holmes), Mary Sundby (Mary Henrietta Snyder) and Doug Schultz (Dr. Dexter Maltby).

Though some cemetery walk events are portrayed as being "spooky" and are held after dark, Mitchell said they wanted to keep this event family-friendly, so they chose to emphasize the historic aspects and include some children's games and refreshments.

Though all of the actors will be well-versed in their character's individual histories, there is no set script or path to follow; visitors can wander through the cemetery and visit the gravesites in any order that they choose, Mitchell added. A map of the cemetery will be provided, with the locations of the actors participating in the Cemetery Walk clearly marked.

Because this is also a fundraising event for the museum, there will be a nominal admission fee of $7 per person for non-museum members, while those who are museum members will receive a $2 discount. All kids age 18 and under will be admitted for free, the same as at the museum, Mitchell added. Tickets will be sold at the gate on the night of the event. For more information, please call the museum at 218-847-2938 or visit the website at

Vicki Gerdes

Staff writer at Detroit Lakes Newspapers for the past 16 years, currently editor of the entertainment and community pages as well as covering city council and the Lake Park-Audubon School Board. Living in DL with my cat, Smokey.

(218) 844-1454