Doug Ohman: keeping history alive through photos and stories

  Doug Ohman chatted with members of the audience at the Two River Church before his presentation at the Kittson Memorial museum May 6. Ohman is just one of the special events planned at the museum this month to celebrate Minnesota Museum month.                                                        (Enterprise Photo by Linda Andersen)

By Linda Andersen
“Tell more stories; you’ll enrich others’ lives,” advised photographer, author, and storyteller, Doug Ohman, when he presented a program on Sunday, May 6th at the Two River Church located on the Kittson County Museum grounds.
Ohman’s program was one of several programs the Kittson County Historical Society held in honor of Minnesota Museums Month. According to the Minnesota Association of Museum’s website, “Every year throughout May, Minnesota celebrates the great work of museums across the state. For 31 days we tell stories, explore new sites, and learn about the important work of museums.”
An easy to listen to storyteller, Ohman offered words of wisdom and interesting stories as he showed his photos of an old hospital, churches, schools, barns, libraries, and more.
“I love those kinds of roads,” he said as he showed a photo of a Minimum Maintenance Road sign, adding that he finds the “best of Minnesota” on such roads.
“If you ever think you’re alone in the country, you’re not. There’s always somebody watching you.” stated Ohman as he presented a photo of a classic old, white country church, St. Peter’s Lutheran, located in Houston County. “I was going to have my own private church picnic,” he added, as he told of the elderly couple, Raymond and Joyce, who wanted to know what he was doing at their former church. While Raymond mowed the church lawn, Ohman assisted Joyce in watering sapling maple trees that the couple had planted to replace hundred year old maples that were downed in a storm. Ohman spoke of visiting the church 10 years later; Raymond and Joyce had passed on, but the maples were flourishing. Raymond and Joyce were people who saw the importance of “preserving something for others,” Ohman said.
He showed a photo of the courthouse in Bemidji and told of how, during the Cold War, volunteer spotters with binoculars watched for Russian planes from the towers of this building.
He displayed a photo of Duluth Central High School, a massive, beautiful structure built in 1892 and closed in 1972 because it required eight and one-half tons of coal per day for heating.
“If the walls could talk, what stories they’d make,” stated Ohman as he offered slides of other old schools.
“I get more requests to talk about barns than any other subject,” he said as a photo of a Sears and Roebuck Mail Order Barn located in Southern Minnesota appeared on the screen. “You literally put it together like a puzzle,” explained Ohman.
“It’s called the Pepto Bismol Barn or the Mary Kay Barn,” he quipped, as he showed a photo of a pink barn.
He suggested one visit Val’s Hamburgers for the “greatest burgers you’ll ever find,” as a photo from a classic 1950’s restaurant located in St. Cloud appeared on the screen.
He showed a photo of a small building in Wasioja, Minn., the last Civil War Recruiting Station in Minnesota. He said all 60 of the men who signed up there were students attending a nearby seminary. Wasioja later became a ghost town.
Ohman showed other photos; Northern Minnesota spots, such as Norris Camp, Old Mill State Park, the Hill Farm, and the dam at Lake Bronson were featured in his presentation.
“We’ve lost a lot of history in Minnesota, but we’ve preserved a lot,” he commented near the program’s conclusion.
He said the stories of his grandmother who came to America through Ellis Island are now gone with her; he regrets that he never heard them. He encouraged grandparents to turn off the T.V. next time the grandchildren come to visit and tell them about their own lives. “I see with each one of you a story,” Ohman told the audience.
Ohman’s important work of preserving history has been published in books, calendars, magazines, and other places. He sold books and note cards that featured his work as refreshments were served at the museum following the presentation.
To learn more about Doug Ohman and his work, visit

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