Community Corner - New exhibit coming to Detroit Lakes Library

"Sometimes little towns die. Sometimes little towns thrive. Today, little towns must change to survive..." So begins the narrative of "Voices of Change," a new traveling art exhibit created by lakes area freelance writer Joan Ellison and professi...

"Sometimes little towns die. Sometimes little towns thrive. Today, little towns must change to survive..."

So begins the narrative of "Voices of Change," a new traveling art exhibit created by lakes area freelance writer Joan Ellison and professional photographer Mel Zierke.

The exhibit, which opens April 16 at the Detroit Lakes Public Library, features a series of black-and-white photographs that portray Pelican Rapids residents who helped their community "change to survive."

Sponsored locally by the Congregational Church of Detroit Lakes, the exhibit is intended to "put some faces on" the changes brought about by an influx of more than 700 immigrants into Pelican Rapids in the 1990s, according to Sharon Sinclair, who is on the church committee that brought the exhibit to DL.

"Our church is interested in doing an outreach into the community -- in being an open and welcoming church for people of all races and cultures," Sinclair said. "We thought this would be a good opportunity to share that interest... to help the people in our area understand what is behind this new immigration, and put some faces on it."


As the exhibit's narrative indicates, Pelican Rapids (population 1,800) saw an influx of over 700 refugees during the 1990s. The purpose of the exhibit is to document the changes brought about by that influx.

"In the macrocosm of a community, success cannot be placed in the hands of one individual," Ellison wrote. "Many people have taken part in the changes which have occurred in Pelican Rapids. Without their help, this would have been a community which died, either in actual fact, or in spirit. But people cared, and this little town is surviving, no, thriving."

Some of the area residents, old and new, who are featured in the exhibit include: Howard Carlson, Phat and Sarah Huynh, Kathy Knudson-Olson, Izet and Dzemal Hajdar, Scott Fox, Gladys Salinas, Hank Van Cleef, Kosa and Irfan Beganovic, Jim Ruud, Israel Elizondo, Jim Christian-son, Abdi Abdi, Denise Gubrud, Jose Juan Zavala, Dianne Kimm, Thip Phommachalink and Brooke Weishair, Elaine Johnson, Phil and Cyndy Stotesbery, Len Zierke and Elfrieda Senn.

Through a series of 90-minute interviews, these residents told their stories. Ellison created a series of 22 essays from those interviews, and Zierke took black-and-white, candid photographs of the essay subjects. All of the subjects were voluntary participants.

Here are few excerpts from Ellison's essays:

"You are an enemy," a judge told Elfrieda Senn in 1942. Elfrieda had come to Minnesota from Germany when she was seven months old. Her parents had become citizens, her siblings had been born in the U.S., but Elfrieda was an enemy..."

Unable to leave Pelican Rapids without official permission, Senn was forced to do so when her youngest son needed to be hospitalized in St. Paul. Despite being told by a man from Immigration & Naturalization Services (INS) that she should not make the trip, she took her child to the Gilette Hospital for treatment. The man from INS followed her to Minneapolis and back. When she returned, she wrote the judge a letter, telling him what she had done. She was called in to Fergus Falls for questioning, and the judge asked her whether she had ever left Pelican Rapids.

When she answered in the affirmative, the judge told her that if she had denied it, she would have been sent away.


Howard Carlson told the story of how he encouraged the community to build a turkey processing plant in 1955, and became its first manager. To meet its need for new employees, he hired women (1958), residents from the state hospital (1963), and Hispanics from Texas (1971).

"The Mexicans shook up the place," he admitted. But Carlson believes West Central Turkeys saved Pelican Rapids.

More stories are told by immigrants to Pelican Rapids from Mexico, Bosnia and Thailand, to name a few. Others are told by local residents whose lives became intertwined with those immigrants.

"I can remember before the refugees ever came, feeling just a little bit that I had missed something by never meeting somebody that was different than me," Jim Ruud said.

A Pelican Rapids area farmer, he and his wife Anna Mae befriended the immigrants when they came. "I felt we were a lot alike," he said, "except we talked a different language."

And that, in a nutshell, is one of the lessons of the "Voices of Change" exhibit, Sinclair said.

These stories of recent immigrants to the U.S., and the differences from, and similarities to, the ancestors of local residents who came to the U.S. generations ago, are explored.

"It gives you something to think about,:" Sinclair concluded.


For more information on the upcoming "Voices of Change" exhibit, go to the Pelican Rapids Public Library's Web site, and click on the "Voices of Change" link. Or, you can contact the library directly at 218-863-7055.

The exhibit will be on loan to the Detroit Lakes Public Library through April 30. There will be a special opening reception at the library on Monday, April 16, from 1-7 p.m. Refreshments will be served.

A reporter at Detroit Lakes Newspapers since relocating to the community in October 2000, Vicki was promoted to Community News Lead for the Detroit Lakes Tribune and Perham Focus on Jan. 1, 2022. She has covered pretty much every "beat" that a reporter can be assigned, from county board and city council to entertainment, crime and even sports. Born and raised in Madelia, Minnesota, she is a graduate of Hamline University, from which she earned a bachelor's degree in English literature (writing concentration). You can reach her at
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