New exhibit opens at Beaumier heritage center

Dan Truckey, director of the Beaumier U.P. Heritage Center, talks to visitors at Saturday’s opening of the new exhibit, “The Immigration Experience.” The exhibit will be open through mid-October. (Journal photo by Christie Bleck)

By CHRISTIE BLECK

Journal Staff Writer

MARQUETTE — The mining and logging industries of the 19th and early 20th centuries attracted an influx of European immigrants to the Upper Peninsula, so there are many stories to tell.

To help tell those tales, a new exhibit, “The Immigration Experience,” opened Saturday at Northern Michigan University’s Beaumier U.P. Heritage Center.

The exhibit explores the immigrants’ experiences, from the first white settlers of the U.P. in the 19th century to the families and individuals putting down roots in the area this century.

Can immigration of the past and present be compared?

“What are the similarities and what are the differences?” Beaumier Director Dan Truckey asked during Saturday’s opening. “We talk a lot about what separates us, but in truth there’s a lot that brings us together.”

The exhibit, he noted, tells the story of immigration in the U.P., featuring families who have been in the area a long time, as well as newer immigrants.

“We’re trying to show commonalities and differences in the experience of immigration over time because immigration has changed, but the reasons why people are coming haven’t. They’re the same,” Truckey said.

“At the same time, how the people respond to immigration and how our country deals with it have changed, and are much the same as they were 150 years ago. There were people angry at immigration 150 years ago too.”

Visitors might be surprised at what they discover at the exhibit.

Truckey said that in 1910, Finns were the largest ethnic group in the U.P., but since then, the U.P. population has “inter-married” a great deal, with Germans now the most dominant ethnicity in the United States.

“Somehow that’s filtered into the U.P.,” Truckey said.

One of the families depicted in the exhibit is the Voelker family, whose members include John Voelker, author of “Anatomy of a Murder.” Another featured family is the Chynoweth clan, with Benjamin Franklin Chynoweth considered a prominent figure in Copper Country mining.

A notable immigrant featured in the exhibit was on hand at the Saturday opening: Helen Dishno, who was born in 1942 as Helina Gackla in a forced labor camp in Poland. Because her parents wouldn’t sign an oath to Adolf Hitler, they were sent to the camp with her older brother.

Following her birth, her mother was able to leave the camp to visit her sister and brother-in-law, but during the visit, the Nazis arrested the family, and they were sent to a camp in Germany.

The father, however, had no idea what happened to his family, and Dishno wouldn’t see him again for decades.

Dishno’s brother and grandfather died in the Germany camp, but her aunt’s home remedies for her eyes kept her alive. However, not wanting to return to the communist regime now in place in Poland, Dishno and her family lived for a while in Germany.

Dishno’s memory goes back to when she was 5 years old and when she lived in that country after the war.

“We were in about 12 different camps in Germany,” said Dishno, with those sites called “displaced persons” camps.

Eventually, Dishno, as well as her aunt and uncle, moved to the U.S., although her mother was unable to accompany them due to poor health.

The three settled in a part of Detroit known as Poletown, and while working in a bakery in Detroit, Dishno met her future husband, Orville Dishno, a city policeman originally from Ishpeming.

In 1965, they moved to Marquette, and in 1984, she returned to Poland to locate her father, eventually finding him working in the fields of his farm. He had tried to find his family after the war, but was unsuccessful, and eventually remarried and had a new family.

“This was common after the war and her mother held no ill feelings,” an exhibit panel read.

Dishno looked at the photo taken of her and her father when they reconnected in Poland.

“I didn’t know that he was still alive,” Dishno said.

It was fortunate she located her father because he died in 1986.

The immigration exhibit, of course, includes many black and white photographs and even family trees of notable area residents, but it also contains artifacts like a table runner and dolls.

One of the largest items is a tree loom made in Marquette County by an unknown Finnish immigrant circa 1910. The loom was owned by Helmi Marie Lindfors Kauppila of Negaunee, who was born in Finland and came to the U.S. with her parents in 1910 at age 6. She used to loom to weave rag-rugs from 1958 to 1974.

The Beaumier Center developed “The Immigration Experience” after being awarded the Michigan Humanities Award, which supports public humanities programming that explores history, poetry, reading, education and community identity.

The center, located in Gries Hall, is open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday. The immigration exhibit will be open through Oct. 13.

Truckey stressed that the museum is open to the public, not just NMU students. Admission to the exhibit is free.

Christie Bleck can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 250. Her email address is cbleck@miningjournal.net.

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