Howard Lake Herald, August 25, 1997

Fire destroys Humphrey Museum in Waverly


Marshmallow clouds of smoke rolled over Waverly as firefighters from Waverly, Howard Lake, and Montrose battled a fire that just wouldn't quit early morning Monday, Aug. 18.

Donna DeLude, Waverly, related the story.

A Cokato motorist John Kevin White, was at Mark's Service gas station on the corner of Wright Co. Rd. 8 and Highway 12, when he noticed a heavy fog.

He said he didn't see fog anywhere else, so he guessed it was smoke from a fire.

He drove to the area by the Humphrey Museum and the Villa Apartments, honking his horn.

He woke Gary Proszek, who saw a light on at Donna and David Delude's.

Proszek was going to have them call the fire department, but he was afraid of their dog.

Donna was awake, looked out her window, and noticed flames in the window of the museum.

She dialed 911 to report the fire. She actually called twice. The second time she wanted to know if anyone in the apartments would be in danger from any explosive materials.

By the time she got off the phone, the Waverly fire trucks were on the scene.

Her husband, David, was one of the people who checked the apartments closest to the fire for occupants. There were none.

Donna said it was about two hours before firefighters could enter the building.

Huge fans blew smoke out of the building. Other firefighters kept water pouring on the structure, as a few went into the burning building for a salvage attempt.

They brought items out the door, and volunteers took the scorched treasures to the park across the street.

David brought sheets of plywood from his roofing project, and the water-soaked pictures and papers were placed on them.

Later, as more volunteers arrived, everything was moved to the village hall floor.

At 11:15 a.m., the difficult blaze was declared under control. The state fire marshal's division investigators, Denise DeMars and Bruce McLaughlin, were on the scene.

Lead investigator DeMars said it would be several days before they could reconstruct the area and conduct their investigation.

Arson is not suspected, and it is being investigated as an accidental fire, she said.

Volunteers Donna, David, Amanda, and Jessica DeLude; David, Marcy, David, Jr., and Mike Schultz; Gail Simpson, Angela Lachermeier, Jessica Reich, and others, covered in soot, continued to work with the soggy items.

Kaye Franske and Ardie Graham made coffee and food for the firefighters. They had done the same when their husbands were firemen and were now helping their sons, said Bender.

She said that it was especially heartening to see young people helping.

Without this joint effort, it would not have been possible to recover and save as much, Bender said.

Museum director Irene Bender said, "When the Minnesota State Historical Society came on the scene, they were amazed at the work that had already begun."

Helen Alten, a private conservator, volunteered two days and headed up the emergency preservation methods, said Bender.

She said volunteers worked throughout the week. People brought food.

"Museum directors from the Cokato Museum, Wright County Historical Society, McLeod County Historical Society, and Pioneer Park spent many hours helping as mutual aid and caring colleagues," said Bender.

About three fourths of the collection was rescued, and most of that is dry and ready to be packed, she said.

It will be stored until it can be evaluated.

Bender said that newspapers from all over the state are sending back issues to replace some of those burned in the fire.

"This place Hubert Humphrey called home has suffered a setback. We are experiencing some of the obstacles Humphrey faced in his life and career.

"We are encouraged by the letters and calls expressing regret, concern, and encouragement. The support has been overwhelming. We are 'Undefeated.'"

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