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Community of Leer to celebrate heritage

July 30, 2011
By DIANE SPEER - News Lifestyles Editor , The Alpena News

Every community has a story to tell about its past.

So believes retired history teacher Linda Pletcher, whose own family history is rooted in the small community of Leer.

"I think all places are interesting if you dig deep enough and get specific enough," said Pletcher.

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She, along with several other like-minded individuals, are doing their best to preserve the heritage of Leer Lutheran Church and the ethnic community which fostered it.

Their efforts have included the establishment of a Leer Heritage Foundation that is intended to generate funds for perpetual upkeep of the church building and surrounding property in the event the church someday closes.

"We're a congregation that is getting older and we want to have funds available to keep up the property," Pletcher said of the quintessential country church that was founded in 1882 by five Norwegian families and currently serves a congregation of about 35.

The preservation efforts also include the recent establishment of a mini-museum and a special Leer Heritage Days celebration that will take place Aug. 12-14.

"We really want to be a resource for the community and to keep a history of our community," Pletcher said in explaining the concept for the new mini-museum.

The museum is being installed on the top floor of the church's detached parish building. It will feature "story boards" that through old photographs and text tell the story of the community's origins, its early schools and organizations, the formation of the church, and even about its 1933 county league baseball team that wound up becoming champions.

A number of artifacts also will go on display, including a tin violin and case that belonged to Ole Pederson, who built many of the homes in Leer as well as several in Alpena. Other items of interest are a banjo that belonged to Henry Jensen, a Leer native killed during World War II; a chair that belonged to Gunhil Christophersen, one of the founders of the church; the original steeple from the historic church; old song books and an early child's Sunday School chair.

"The upstairs was not being used," Pletcher said. "It has wooden floors and nice tin work on the walls."

She is hoping that anyone else with Leer-related items that might be of interest for the museum would be willing to donate them or lend them for copying purposes.

"We're just in the process of doing this museum. Sometimes people have things in boxes stuffed away in a closet," Pletcher said. "They can either donate those things or we can copy them. This way people can enjoy them and we can preserve a part of our history."

Already, she said, people have been responding to the call for items.

"People have been very responsive," she said. "They are looking through their old photo albums and wondering who people are. It's been really fun and a unifying activity for us."

As for the planned celebration, it serves a dual purpose: to raise funds for the Leer Lutheran Foundation and to celebrate the community's heritage. Pletcher and those helping to organize the three-day event hope that it becomes an annual observance.

Festivities will start off on a Friday evening (Aug. 12) with an outdoor hotdog roast at 6 p.m. on the church grounds. Blues guitar music will be provided by John Christophersen.

Saturday (Aug. 13) is considered the big day of the celebration. In honor of the old-fashioned church "socials" of the past, an outdoor luncheon is planned at noon. Tables will be decked out in vintage quilts for tablecloths and thrift store dishes "like Grandma would have used." A short program on the early schools in the area, based on historic records, will be given.

Around 2:30 p.m., a walk of the cemetery, which is located in front of the church, will be taken and feature stories of some of the people buried there.

Later that same evening, at 6 p.m., a banquet will take place in the parish hall. Rolf Christophersen, a member of the 1993 championship baseball team, will be present to share some of his memories. Pletcher also will give a short narrative on the immigration of the five key families from Norway who ultimately settled in Leer.

According to Pletcher, the town of Leer is named after their place of origin in Lier, Norway. She recently returned from a trip to that country where she was able to visit and photograph the original farms their ancestors left behind in their journey to Leer.

The Leer Heritage Days festivities will conclude Sunday (Aug. 14) with a church service at 9:30 a.m., followed by a potluck luncheon.

Because the celebration is considered a fundraiser for the church's foundation, tickets are being sold to both the Saturday luncheon and banquet. The tickets are $10 for the lunch and $15 for dinner and are available by contacting Pletcher at 379-2920.

Reservations are requested by Aug. 2.

Even with all the busyness of establishing the foundation and the museum, plus planning the Heritage Days celebration, Pletcher and her fellow Leer enthusiasts have their eyes set on other eventual goals, including to collect the history of other nationalities such as Scottish, Polish and German, who also settled in Leer.

The ultimate goal, however, is to get the church listed on the National Register of Historic Places.



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