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FEATURE ARTICLE 2
VolunTourism makes the small... LARGE in stature. It makes the seemingly quaint - EXTRAORDINARY. It can take a township and transform it into a METROPOLIS of service and tourism possibilities!
The "thunk" of my head against the window alerts me to the fact that I have dozed off during our drive south. Perhaps it is the result of too little sleep; but my guess is that it has something to do with our busy morning in Moorehead, MN. (See "Computers For Ghana")
Now, as our group of VolunTourists passes the rolling hills covered by a thick, white blanket, I am reminded that this VolunTourist is not in the Tropics. No, in fact, I find myself shuttling across Northeastern South Dakota amidst the remnants of a few-day-old snow storm. The first patch of green to catch my eye is a road sign that reads: “Roslyn - - Pop. 231.” I could not hold back a smile and a slight chuckle as the thought crossed my mind: “There are 49 people on this bus; we represent a population boom!”
And so it was; thirty-seven high school students from seven different high schools in Minnesota and North Dakota, seven college students, and five adults arrived on a sunny, spring afternoon in this small hamlet. "What in the world are they going to do with us?"
(But isn't that just the trick of it. You come into a place FULLY KNOWING what it will be like. Then, the VolunTourism experience "thunks" your head and you realize how much you had underestimated the power of the SMALL!)
Wes, our “foreman” for our service project, greeted our bus with a smile and a wave. His round, weathered face and mustache gave rise to the Beatles'lyrics: “…I am the walrus, goo goo g’joob goo goo g’joob.” Our task for the afternoon was to strip the paint from the outside walls of the 36-bed nursing facility that serves the local and neighboring residents, and add a coat of primer. We divided into groups – scrapers on one side and painters on the other. Once we finally got organized and began our work, I convinced Wes to share with my team an oral history of Roslyn.
“What can you tell us about Roslyn that no one else outside of Roslyn would ever know?”
Wes thought a little bit and then he shared these items:
“Roslyn was a railroad town until the early 70’s. Dairy and other products were shipped to points north and south. The town was famous for its Butter Creamery and hosting one of the best butter churners in the region. People would come from many miles to get ‘Roslyn Butter.’ When the railroad spur was removed, many of the residents relocated.
About a hundred years earlier, the Lutheran Church that lies in the center of Roslyn was moved from its former location several miles outside of town. My grandfather did his part. Soon thereafter it burned to the ground. The townspeople got together and dug up rocks from their surrounding farmlands and brought them into the center of town. Two stonecutters from Minnesota were then hired to reconstruct the church.”
Wes rewarded me later with a visit to the Lutheran Church. Its stain glass windows willingly filter the light of the setting sun. Holding back his tears, he shared with me his vision of super-imposing the stain glass centerpiece of the church on a photograph with him, his guitar, and the western stone wall of the church in the foreground. “The church is always open; we do not lock it,” he told me enthusiastically.
The Vinegar Man
That evening, after dining with the residents of the nursing facility, the “VolunTourists” gathered in the converted Butter Creamery that now serves as the Roslyn Community Center. The first Saturday night of each month is reserved for music and dancing. On this night, a Thursday, however, our group used it to perform skits to process the trip thus far and to enhance our bonding. Following the performances, we had a surprise visit from Mr. Lawrence Diggs, “The Vinegar Man.” He expressed his gratitude and how he was looking forward to showing us through the International Vinegar Museum in the morning.
“I have traveled the world, lived in numerous countries, and been on six continents…we are feeling beings that think, not thinking beings that feel,” he said. “What you are doing is very important.”
“The museum will not be in its finest shape tomorrow, you will have to come back in June when it officially opens. But we will go through and you can ask questions. And remember to wear a coat, I won’t have the heat on,” he added with a smile.
No one will probably ever know the complete story behind what brought Lawrence Diggs, an African American most recently relocated from San Francisco, California, to Roslyn; but here he has established the International Vinegar Museum and plays host for the annual International Vinegar Festival. He has been the topic of numerous articles discussing the museum and, of all things, his role in preserving the history of vinegar. In the “off-season” he travels around the world as a consultant “helping people to appreciate, make and use vinegar in unique ways,” according to his business card.
But it was Lawrence’s sister, Ethel Diggs-Mitchell, who greeted us early the following morning. Wes manned the mixing board and Ethel belted out several of her favorite gospel songs during our breakfast with members of the community. As the Butter Creamery came to life, I watched hands clap, toes tap, and heads nod. Her voice rang out with the conviction of her faith, in the words she was singing; and nothing can move like conviction. A recent immigrant to Roslyn, Ethel relocated to help Lawrence with the museum. “She was coming only during the season at first, but each time she came she made friends and finally decided to stay,” Lawrence told me in a phone call afterward.
Meet "The Galvins"
Tuesdays 10am ET/7am PT
Norman Rockwell would have been extremely proud of our little group as we experienced everything that speaks so eloquently of Americana. Following Ethel’s impromptu performance, we meandered down to the store adjacent to the Vinegar Museum, The Rug Weaving Shoppe, owned and operated by the Galvin Family – mother, father, and son. They utilize a masterful process of incorporating recycled clothing into their loom-based weaving and sell their wares at fairs and trade shows throughout the tri-state area (North Dakota, South Dakota, and Nebraska). They did not want to go into too much detail, of course, because they have developed their own “secret recipe” for weaving rugs.
“We don’t teach classes or anything like that,” was Ardella Galvin’s response to the question of whether people could come and weave a rug on their looms. “I suppose we could, but then someone else would know how we do it. And who knows, it might be a competitor,” she grins. But everyone in the group has a chance to step up to the loom, weave a couple of runs of material, and give a tug or two on a shuttle. “It takes about an hour to weave an entire rug,” her son adds, “once you know what you’re doing.” The half-suppressed smile on his face gives an indication as to just how long it might take to acquire such aptitude.
Yet the process begins long before one stands in front of the loom. The main time-consumer is collecting the items that will serve as material from yard sales, thrift shops, and elsewhere. Once accumulated, more hours are spent preparing those very materials for use. Hundreds of pairs of blue jeans, scores of terry cloth bathrobes, and thousands of sheets and curtains lie on shelves throughout the Shoppe. They must all be stripped into certain size sheets and then carefully sewn together by none other than Ardella herself. “The boys do the stripping and I do the cutting and sewing,” she tells us, “quality control!”
She and her “boys” had captured the attention of the young faces around me; and I, too, was fascinated with the entire operation. It was simplicity itself: the most startling reminder that time, patience, and persistence are the things that make small businesses in places like Roslyn thrive. The attention to detail in every movement, in every step of the process, is what makes the final product worth having. It was true for rugs; it was true for vinegar.
“You can make vinegar out of anything that has sugar or starch in it, including honey,” Lawrence tells us during our tour. “Just about any place in the world can produce vinegar. Here is a bottle from Russia, Spain, Portugal, Italy…” and he continued pointing out countries from the vast display of bottles he has collected over the years. “As with wine, you can add things to vinegar to change the taste – garlic, thyme, oregano – it really depends on what you want to do."
A Most Valuable Lesson
Although our bus left the bustling township of Roslyn, some thirty minutes later, I have been reflecting on the metaphors and the many lessons that I learned through that experience even to this day. A great realization came to me during that twenty-one hour period: Any place on earth can prove to be the most exquisite VolunTourism destination, given sufficient time and energy spent in assessing the unique qualities of that space, of course. Like the production of vinegar, there are many elements that commiserate to have an impact on the final outcome – essentially, it all goes into the VolunTourism bottle.
If a rural town, of 231 people, can organize itself to host a group of VolunTourists, is it not also possible that any village, community, town, or city throughout the world could do likewise? It begins with the willingness of local residents to understand, participate, and commit. This was clearly evident in the case of Roslyn. At every point of the interaction with residents there was an open-ness – a welcoming and inviting attitude.
They had conducted an insightful accounting of their “inventory of assets” – the nursing facility, the Butter Creamery, the Lutheran Church, The International Vinegar Museum, and The Rug Weaving Shoppe. It was the combination of these things that formed a remarkable VolunTourism itinerary. And it didn’t hurt to further their experiment, by hosting a group of enthusiastic, respectful, and desirous-of-learning young people – all coordinated by Students Today Leaders Forever as a “Pay It Forward High School Tour.”
This may sound over-simplistic. (Also, it cannot be denied that in the beginning stages the monetary compensation will not equal expenditures.) However, money-making is not the primary goal of VolunTourism. It is the connectivity between peoples, the sharing of culture and life-patterns, and the attitude of reciprocity and mutuality in the ideal of service to one another that creates the space for things like money to ultimately exchange hands. Deeper connections are fostered and eventually a sense of loyalty solidifies the bond between residents and visitors. Against this backdrop, and re-situated as a secondary goal/objective, monetary compensation flows more readily as was evidenced when some of the young people bought t-shirts and other souvenirs at the International Vinegar Museum in Roslyn – and Lawrence Diggs wasn’t even open for business yet!
Granted not all 231 people stepped forward to greet the group of VolunTourists from Minnesota and North Dakota, but this is not the point. Those that did venture forth and invite the visitors into their town and share with them what makes Roslyn such a special place in their hearts made their mark on, at the very least, one of those people. And because of that, you have had a chance to read about it.
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