Spring Hill native writes about bygone era

This article submitted by Molly H. Connors on 9/17/96.

After 13 years on a Spring Hill dairy farm, nine years in St. John's seminary, four years in the Army and many more as a self-employed silversmith, Duke Klassen has added writing to his resumŽ.

He's actually been writing for six years. He's written stories about his experiences in the Army. He worked as an Arabic translator in Ethiopia for nearly four years.

Klassen's new book, a collection of stories, is called "The Dance Hall at Spring Hill." Klassen grew up on a dairy farm near Spring Hill with nine brothers and sisters. His brothers, Ralph and Jimmy, still live in Spring Hill. His sisters are also in the area: St. Martin, Litchfield, Clearwater and Albany.

Klassen wrote Dance Hall because he saw "how much the area around home has changed ... everything changed rather radically with t.v. in the '50s." He remembered when local roads, like Highway 4, were paved.

"People were quite isolated" before the roads were paved. Now, there aren't the problems with getting around in the winter that there were back then. As the area changes, Klassen sees details of life before widespread paved roads and television "being lost with time."

Klassen, 53, went to grade school in Spring Hill. He would have went to Melrose High School. Instead, he decided on the seminary at St. John's.

"The level of education was pretty intense ... (seminary) was sort of an eye-opener," Klassen said. Through his education, his mind was opened to a "larger world."

Klassen entered the seminary when he was 13 years old. Young seminarians weren't unusual then, he said. He couldn't recall one particular experience that led him to the seminary. Instead, he attributes his call to the "religious atmosphere of the area."

"I wasn't trying to write a history," Klassen said. "There are a fair number of histories ... (they're) not in a form people enjoy reading." His book is fiction, "but the fabric of life is there."

Klassen said his book a is "an attempt to depict what life was like then ... reveal some of the details."

Any time a story is told a second time, "it is fiction, no matter how true it is. The teller picks and chooses ... an editing process, picking the elements that work, that illustrate a point," he said.

Klassen's writings are based on his own experiences. He has become interested in Stearns County and researches the area in his spare time. Stearns County has the highest proportion of Germans of any county in the U.S.

Klassen's book can be found at the Stearns County Heritage Society. It will be in area bookstores by Sept. 25.

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