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Brainerd History Week kicks off

Brainerd City Council members Gary Scheeler (left) and Dale Parks prepare to bury a time box on the east side of Brainerd City Hall Monday. The capsule is schedule to be opened in 50 years. Steve Kohls/Brainerd Dispatch1 / 3
Veteran and survivor of the Bataan Death March, Walt Straka and Brainerd History Week Co-Chair Mary Koep listen during the Kick off for Brainerd History Week Monday at city hall. Brainerd Dispatch/Steve Kohls 2 / 3
After an entrance in an antique car, Walt Straka, veteran and survivor of Bataan Death March, is escorted by Brainerd councilman Gary Scheeler to the podium at city hall for the beginning of the Centennial Celebration Monday. Brainerd Dispatch/Steve Kohls3 / 3

It's a celebration of the people.

The successes. The hard lessons learned. The obstacles overcome.

Brainerd History Week is a time for residents to come together and share stories, organizers say.

The week of activities runs through Sunday.

It officially started Monday morning in front of city hall, where about 100 city, county and state leaders, as well as Brainerd residents, gathered.

The idea for the celebration sparked when a few Brainerd history lovers wanted to recognize the construction of three landmarks: Brainerd City Hall, the old fire hall and the Parker Bandstand in Gregory Park, all turning 100 this year.

It has since ballooned into a full-fledged party for the people and town overall, led by History Week Committee co-chairs Carl Faust and city council member Mary Koep.

At Monday's kickoff event, city leaders buried a three-foot circular time capsule, filled with memorabilia from area businesses and the city. It will be opened again in 50 years.

The time capsule is located in front of the side door of City Hall, at the foot of the new memorial bench dedicated to Bonnie Cumberland, the former council president who died a few months ago.

"It's rather exciting for people to see what we had going on both today and in 1914," said Brainerd City Council President Dale Parks.

Mayor James Wallin also read a proclamation declaring the day as "Private Walter B. Straka Day." Brainerd resident Straka is a survivor of the Bataan Death March and is the last surviving National Guard member of A Company. He was taken POW on April 9, 1942.

Straka was escorted to the front steps of city hall Monday at the beginning of the ceremony in a small parade of aged cars, which was led by the color guard.

"Brainerd is steeped in rich history," said master of ceremonies Guy Doud, the 1986 national teacher of the year.

Doud added that city hall was built in the same year World War I began; when the Panama Canal opened; At a time when a postage stamp cost 2 cents and a gallon of gas was 12 cents.

Crow Wing County Board Chair Rosemary Franzen added that 100 years ago, there were only 48 stars on the American flag.

"These buildings, this city, has stood the test of time," she said.

Crow Wing County Attorney Don Ryan spoke about his family's extensive history in Brainerd.

But, "it's not about just one family or building. It's about all of us," he said.

Ryan added that Brainerd has "limitless possibilities" looking forward.

Brainerd School Board member Bob Nystrom spoke of the evolution of the schools in the town, adding that none of the growth would have been possible without collaboration.

Jim Miller, executive director of the League of Minnesota Cities, said city hall buildings have always been a place for people to come together.

"Through history, these buildings have been an important symbol of grassroots democracy," he said.

And while Brainerd History Week started off as a way to celebrate three landmarks, Rep. Joe Radinovich, DFL-Crosby said it was much more than that.

"Buildings don't make a community. People make a community," he said.

He added, "We have the best people in the area."

For a complete schedule, go to

Follow event highlights throughout the week on Twitter:

Search #BrainerdHistoryWeek or follow reporter Jessie Perrine @brainerdnews.