By Kristen Miller
DASSEL, COKATO, MN With two buildings listed on the National Register of Historic Places and the oldest existing sauna in North America, Dassel and Cokato are undoubtedly rich in their history.
Working behind the scenes to ensure those buildings and stories survive for future generations to come are members of the area historical societies.
These non-profit organizations, which are made up of volunteers, include the Cokato Finnish-American Historical Society, Dassel Area Historical Society, and the Cokato Historical Society.
Cokato Finnish-American Historical Society
Founded in 1896, the Cokato Finnish-American Historical Society exists to preserve historical buildings and artifacts located at the Finnish Pioneer Park, also known as Temperance Corner (north of Cokato on Highway 3). In addition, its goal is to educate the public and provide historical information regarding the Finnish culture.
The historical buildings that make up Temperance Corner include a country school house, sauna, log cabin, and social hall. All of these buildings are open, with displays, during the society’s two annual festivals, a memorial program the Saturday before Memorial Day, and a fall festival in October.
Midsummer is also celebrated at the site in June with a historical program, and an evening dessert potluck, followed by a bonfire.
Pikkujoulu (Little Christmas) is celebrated the second Saturday in December, during which a candle lighting at the cemetery takes place followed by a potluck supper.
The public is welcome to attend all events.
For its members, the society offers free Finnish language classes for young and old. It also offers scholarships to a Finnish language camp in the summer.
Memberships are $10 for individuals, and $15 for couples, and donations help the society with their preservation and educational efforts. Each will also receive a newsletter.
It’s important to note, the society does not receive any subsidiary funding from government entities.
There are about 150 members in the organization, which meets quarterly at Temperance Hall, except for the January annual meeting, which takes place in the Centennial Room at the Cokato Library.
Those interested in joining, or has more questions, can call Harvey Barberg, president, at (320) 286-5823, or e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Dassel Area Historical Society
The mission of the Dassel Area Historical Society (DAHS) is to preserve the past, enrich the present, and secure the future of the Dassel area.
The DAHS manages the Dassel History Center and Ergot Museum, located at 901 First Street N. in Dassel. Home of the ergot museum, the Universal Laboratories is on the National Register of Historic Places and was named one of the 25 top preservation projects in the state of Minnesota in 2006, by the Minnesota Preservation Alliance.
David Broesder, 2011-12 society president, said the history center is the best-kept secret in Dassel.
“For me, it’s just a wonderful place . . . an element that helps pull the community together,” he commented.
He also noted the collaboration between the historical society and the city of Dassel. “It’s pretty astounding,” he said.
This year, the society is looking forward to hosting a traveling piano exhibit in April, highlighting Steve Meisner’s vintage collection of pianos.
The society also hosts a number of events throughout the year, including an annual flower, a New England pot roast dinner, and the annual Taste of Dassel in which the Leikkaring and the society serve a smorgasbord of food.
The society also hosts a program each year on the Saturday of Red Rooster Days, as well as other events at the history center both that Saturday and Labor Day.
The DAHS is responsible for upkeep of the Mushroom building, the former Mobil gas station on Highway 12. The society sponsors entertainment there Wednesday evenings during the summer months.
The society also has a research department made up of volunteers who assist with genealogy and other records.
There is an estimated 3,000 hours of volunteer work given each year.
“Our volunteers are amazing,” said Carolyn Holje, museum director. “That’s what makes this work.”
Those interested in being ambassadors for the history center and supporting the culture of Dassel can consider becoming a member. Members also receive a quarterly newsletter.
Visit the website at www.dasselhistorycenter.org for information, or call (320) 275-3077.
Cokato Historical Society
The Cokato Historical Society supports the operation of the award-winning Cokato Museum and Gust Akerlund Photography Studio, a National Register Historic site and one of the only 20th century photo studios in the central US.
“It’s such a unique and complete package,” said Bob Gasch, historical society president.
Akerlund Studio is not just a photography studio. It shows Akerlund’s original daily and business life, complete with his laboratory and equipment, along with his living quarters.
The society’s goal is preserving the history of the community. Its current focus now is preserving post World War II history, Gasch explained.
The current historical society project is compiling a list of all the gas stations from the 1940s and beyond, along with who owned them and when they were sold.
The Cokato Historical Society doesn’t run the museum, however, Gasch said, noting it’s a city-owned building and staffed by city employees.
The society is the non-profit that allows the museum to obtain grants.
Throughout the year, the society hosts programs and events including its annual open house in January, which features the Finnish tradition of tin melting.
The society also prints a quarterly newsletter, “In the Midst of,” and provides research services for genealogists or persons interested in local history.
Questions about the historical society, museum, or Akerlund Studio may be directed to the Cokato Museum at (320) 286-2427, e-mail email@example.com, or visit the website: www.cokato.mn.us.