Northwoods Pride – An Invitation

by Bill Tefft

Sometimes I can’t see the forest for the trees and at other times, I can’t see the trees for the forest. But this morning, I can see and appreciate all the environments that I lived in during my life - especially the small rural communities with a history closely connected to the land surrounding them.
The most valuable resources in those areas are the people that bring their independent nature, work ethic, community mindedness, proud heritage, and willingness to give for the common good. I am nearing the end of my 75th year, 45 of those years living in Ely. Among my friends and acquaintances are those who have connections to this area for generations, over their lifetime, intermittently, only recently, or having never been here. Ely’s history spans over one hundred years and the regions physical landscape, human heritage and all other lifeforms have led to what find here today.
Everyday is an anniversary and potential celebration of something. And often, days may be struggles to live and work through. The outcomes from those celebrations and struggles over time have led to all the people and characteristics that I am rewarded by life in the Ely Area. Ely is not just a town. It is a “Northwoods,” “Arrowhead,” “Laurentian Shield,” “boundary waters”, “Superior National Forest,” “Voyageur National Park,” “Lake Superior,” part of an interrelated consortium of cities, townships, counties, nations, and a state and a province.”
And you cannot live anywhere, no matter how rural, and not realize the almost unfathomable connections that exist to the earth and all that lives on it. There is something to be learned wherever one lives about how to approach life. There are always struggles in life for humans or any other life form. Although different views contribute and challenge any small communities’ ability to work through its challenges, I am proud of all that our region’s environment offers and I am proud of the human and other resources that our region has bring to the tasks at hand.
This is the 100th year Anniversary of Vermilion Community College, formerly Ely Junior College. Like many elements of our area, the college has provided the ongoing value of a higher education institution in the center of the Arrowhead. Starting this year, the college has become the Vermilion Campus of Minnesota North College along with Rainy River, Mesabi, Hibbing, and Itasca. Like every other resource of the area. During my 45 years here, I have learned of its history and seen its services lead to the development of human resources for our area and elsewhere.
I have followed the lives of students, faculty, administrators, and facilities at the college, and I am looking for the stories from them and others that will combine to enable an anniversary celebration of the college and its role in our area’s local and greater community. A timeline for the college including sites, facilities, administrators, staff, academic and community programs, faculty, students, housing, and experiences. The Ely Junior College began in 1922. Celebrating 100 years is more than just and anniversary, it is 100 years of remembrances, happenings, and stories. And for a town like Ely and a state like Minnesota, it is history and part of the lives of individuals, a town, and a larger community.
Engage with me, your local newspapers, the Ely-Winton Historical Society, and community members, to share stories and begin to build a detailed chronology. Think back, you have so many stories of our area that will help others make the community connection.