Women’s History Month feature; Geraldine “Jerry” Pedersen
Today, for Women’s History Month we celebrate the contribution of local historian and Jasper Historical Society director, Geraldine Pedersen.
We invite you to join us in honoring her lifetime of dedication to documenting the people and places of Jasper, and her service as Editor of the Jasper Journal.
The entire reason the Jasper School is standing today, and my organization exists, is because she took action to save it from demolition in 2002.
I will never forget the conversation I had with her the day I called shortly after the school went up for auction in November 2015. It went a bit like this:
Me: “Hi Geraldine, the city office gave me your number and said that you would be the person who knows everything about the school and it’s current situation…”
I go on to explain that I’m interested in seeing if there’s a possibility of fundraising to buy it and get grants to fix it up, and what she knows about its eligibility for the National Register.
She listened patiently and then when I paused, she chuckled a little and said something to the effect of, “oh my dear girl, bless your heart and enthusiasm, but I have worked for a long time on it, and I’m 90 years old, and I just don’t think there’s anything else I can do. But I sure do wish you well.” And then she proceeded to tell me some information about how she gathered a committee, wrote to the Superintendent, and wrote to the Minnesota Historical Society and asked them to evaluate it, and they came down immediately to evaluate it, and sent a strongly worded letter to the Superintendent that encouraged the school district not to demolish it.
We had a nice chat, I told her I completely understood her perspective, and thanked her for her time and dedication to Jasper, and I said I would keep her updated if we decided to move forward on anything. I was a little deflated, but I definitely understood how much time and effort she could put in and the limitations she must’ve felt with some of her physical limitations and limited income.
A few hours later, I got a voicemail from Geraldine, and something to the effect of “if you’d like to come down to Jasper, I have something to give you related to the school that might help. “
Instantly I felt encouraged and drove down that afternoon, and we were able to sit and chat for a few hours. By the time we left, Geraldine had given me some suggestions about who to contact at the Historical Society, and handed me a 40+ page typewritten book entitled “The History of the Jasper School by Geraldine Pedersen” full of news articles, interview transcripts, and stories of the school. After getting my phone cal,l she had apparently had a change of heart, and tootled down to the city office and photocopied her entire book, and put it in sleeves in a binder for me, and called me to come get it.
It was then and there, that I knew I had found a kindred spirit, and we would be fast friends. Stopping in Jasper for Board meetings and workdays sometimes ended with a coffee, a chat and a look at some of her history books and papers, as she was constantly saving newspaper articles and clippings and typing up descriptions for the next in the series of 40 books I’m told she compiled on local history.
It wasn’t until a few years later, after I nominated her for the EmBe Tribute To Women award and the Minnesota Alliance of Local History Museums Lifetime Achievement Award, that we were chatting and she confided to me; “ you know that first day you called me and asked me about the Jasper school, I thought you were a little bit nuts. I thought ‘oh bless her heart, she’s got a whole bunch of enthusiasm but I don’t think she is aware of how much work she’s in for.’ But, after you came to me and explained your idea and plan, I figured, I think she knows what she’s talking about!” We both had a good laugh about how often that same thing has happened to me in many times I’ve been underestimated in the past.
After knowing her and hearing stories from others after she passed away, about what a tough cookie, determined and opinionated she was, I realize now just how high the odds were against me convincing her that saving the school was still possible. She still had hope, buried deep down, and somehow I was able to wake it up again.
On our 45 minute drive to the EmBe tribute award night in Sioux Falls, she confided in me that her life’s last wish was to stand on the stage of the Jasper School auditorium and see it lit up and restored to its former glory.
I told her I was doing everything in my power to make that dream come true, but she and I both knew her time was getting short.
Regretfully, she passed away suddenly in December 2019, and Jasper lost its most steadfast champion and devoted history recorder, whose work underpins everything we at Reclaim Community have accomplished.
Thank you, Geraldine, for your service and your example. Generations to come will walk the halls of Jasper High, and learn about you and your impact on Jasper and its future.
Rest easy, dear friend. I’ll do my best to carry on where you left off.
You can read her obituary here: Pipestone Star Article about her life: https://www.pipestonestar.com/articles/geraldine-pedersen-2/
We have uploaded one of her compiled history books on the Jasper School, which you can peruse here: https://reclaimcommunity.org/the-jasper-school/