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History column ahead

Today's print column, with news on a pet project:

If you’re like me, you have a hard time keeping track of what happened last week, much less a year ago or longer.

To help P-B readers remember key moments of the past — not just from a year ago, but 25 and 50 years ago as well — we’ve hired Loren Else.

Loren, a retired safety manager at the Federal Medical Center who has freelanced for our sports section in the past year, will write a daily column for us beginning March 1 called The Day in History. It’s his job to comb through the archives and choose the most relevant and interesting local news from that date.

Many papers have a feature of this kind, and we used to, many moons ago. I’ve wanted to restart this for a long while, and Loren’s just the guy to do it.

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A lot of work goes into researching this type of column. The news from a year ago is easily accessible in our online archives, but those only go back to 1989. Beyond that, Loren will be spinning through microfilm housed at the Olmsted County History Center and Rochester Public Library.

When you think about how fragile the written history of the Rochester area is — that it’s being reported by only a few sources, chiefly us — and that most of the P-B’s published work is readable only in microfilm, it makes the type of column that Loren will write that much more meaningful.

I produced the history column for my hometown paper in Wahpeton, N.D., when I was in high school, only the papers weren’t on microfilm, they were bound in huge, mildewed volumes in the building’s Phantom of the Opera -like basement. The flyspecked pages crumbled when you touched them.

I sometimes wonder if those papers were eventually preserved on film. If not, a big piece of the town’s history is gone, or at best inaccessible to the public.

A P-B reader asked recently why we don’t put all our past editions online. The answer, not surprisingly, is money. We began archiving our work electronically in 1989, but to scan earlier editions into a digital format is grotesquely expensive, at least for now.

We’re hoping Loren’s new daily column will make our area’s history a little more accessible. Look for it in the A section beginning a week from today.

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EXPLORERS IN OUR MIDST:The next Post-Bulletin Dialogues program at the Rochester library, at 7 p.m. Monday, will feature local and area explorers who have had adventures most of us only daydream about — climbing Mount Kilimanjaro, for example, or competing in world-caliber  "extreme sports."

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This month’s event is in tandem with the Rochester Reads program, the communitywide book-reading program co-sponsored by the P-B, library and other groups, which featured polar explorer Ann Bancroft earlier this month.

As always, the Dialogues program is free, with plenty of coffee and snacks, and it generally turns into a freewheeling conversation about local media, current events, politics and whatever’s on your mind.

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I WORK FOR COFFEE:I gave what I hope was a breathlessly interesting talk last week at the Kiwanis Day Makers club meeting at the Rochester Senior Citizens Center, one of several talks I’ve given to area organizations recently.

These events are fun for me and hopefully help out community groups in need of local speakers. As I did last week, I learn a ton about what people are thinking about the paper and come away with story ideas and thoughts on how we can improve.

I’m at your service if you’re looking for a speaker for your club or organization. The only prerequisite is you must provide a good cup of strong coffee — and you get an even better show if the doughnuts are fresh.

Jay Furst is the Post-Bulletin’s managing editor and welcomes your comments. You can contact him at furst@postbulletin.com or P.O. Box 6118, Rochester, MN 55904, or post comments on his Web log at www.postbulletin.com.

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