July 8, 2013 | Vol. 94, No. 158

School days remembered

ERWIN TOWNSHIP — On Sunday, a project that Ivan Hellen, Erwin Township historian, has spent hundreds of hours working on since 2009 came to fruition with the unveiling and dedication of a historical marker at the Erwin Township Hall, formerly the Erwin Central School.

Katie Perttunen/Daily Globe
Ivan Hellen, Erwin Township historian, left, and brothers, continuing counterclockwise, Bill, John and David Hellen unveil a new marker designating Erwin Township Hall as a historical site in the state of Michigan during a ceremony held Sunday afternoon.

“It’s an honor to preserve the legacy and heritage of our pioneer settlers 104 years later,” said Hellen, who is also the historian for Miner’s Memorial Heritage Park.

Hellen and his brothers David, Bill and John unveiled the plaque that stands in front of the building on Van Buskirk Road during a sun-filled ceremony on the lawn Sunday.

“In 1909, the newly formed Erwin Township School District built this one-room schoolhouse,” according to the plaque. “The school served the area’s Finnish-born mining, logging, and farming families. The township bought the school in 1928 and altered it for use as the Town Hall and a community building. Some classes continued to be held here until 1931, when the district consolidated its five one-room schoolhouses into the nearby K.P. Silberg Central School.”

In 2009, when Hellen started the project to get the town hall recognition as a Michigan historical site, he found out that then Gov. Jennifer Granholm had ended the program. Two years ago, Eastern Michigan University took it over, and Hellen began the process again. There is a year wait between submitting the necessary documentation and getting the formal recognition, said Hellen.

Hellen received the letter of acceptance for the township on Sept. 22, 2012.

During the dedication ceremony, Hellen read aloud certificates and letters from Michigan U.S. senators Debbie Stabenaw and Carl Levin, and U.S. Rep. Dan Benishek (R-Crystal Falls), among others. State Rep. Scott Dianda (R-Calumet) was slated to present the marker, but he had a family medical emergency that kept him away.

Local historian Larry Peterson spoke during the ceremony, and said a lot of small town America goes to the wayside and is not recognized, but it is in these small communities that true “Americanism” lies. “This is why it’s so important to preserve this,” Peterson said.

Lt. Col. Dave Manki acted as master of ceremonies, and Andy Hill gave the invocation and closed the ceremony with a prayer. Music was performed by “Dorothy and the Boys,” and lunch was served.

“If these walls could talk, just think what stories they would tell,” said Hellen. The original four voting booths where many immigrants who became citizens first cast their votes as Americans are still used, Hellen said.