Thursday, June 2, 2011

Packed house for April 18 annual meeting

A packed house of members and friends filled the assembly room at Pin Oak Lodge April 18 for Pulitzer Prize-winning photographer David Peterson's presentation during the annual meeting of the Lucas County Historical Society.

Peterson used 21st Century technology to turn his award-winning "Shattered Dreams" photo essay of the mid-1980s, dealing with Iowa's farm crisis of that decade, into a multi-media presentation accompanied by appropriate music and narration. There was plenty of time for questions and answers after as well as updates on some of the families he covered then.

This version of his essay had only been presented only twice previously, once at Drake University and again during January at Simpson College --- so we were very lucky to be able to see it and to be able to visit with the photographer.

Since many in the audience had been affected in some manner by that economic crisis, during which hundreds of Iowa farmers lost their land to foreclosure, families that had farmed for generations were forced to change course and our small towns were badly battered, the presentation hit close to home for some.

You can see some of the photos as well as other examples of Peterson's extraordinary work in the portfolio on his Web site, which is here. Scroll down to "Pulitzer Prize Farm Crisis Essay."

Peterson developed the idea for in-depth coverage of the farm crisis while traveling widely in Iowa on assignment for The Des Moines Register and on his own, but was told by his editors when he approached them that they didn't feel more needed to be done to cover the situtation.

Peterson persisted, however; applied for a Nikon Foundation grant; and with the $10,000 it provided was able to follow his vision while on sabbatical from The Register. Unsure initially who would publish it, the quality of Peterson's work convinced the Register to come through in the end (while not paying his salary, of course) and it agreed to do so. Part of the agreement was that Peterson would have complete editorial control. The product was published as "Shattered Dreams: The Iowa Farm Crisis" in December of 1986 and won the Pulitzer for feature photography in 1987.

Peterson, who now free-lances, and his wife have their Pleasant Hill home on the market and when it sells plan to become full-time RVers, roaming the country so that a terrific photographer can continue to follow his vision.

During the brief annual meeting that followed, we let long-time historical society board member and society president Jack Young off the hook, finally, at age 85, and allowed him to retire. Having moved mountains in his time, he'll be missed.

But we added to the board Darlene Arnold, immersed for many years in Lucas County-related genealogy and local history.

A bonus for those of us at Pin Oak April 18 was the fact pelicans had flown in during the day and were settling down for the night along the east shore, opposite the big windows in the main room of the lodge. So we were able to use the viewing scope in the lodge to snoop on these wonderful birds.

All in all, it was a great evening. And the pie served up by curator emeritus Betty Cross (foreground) and retired LCHS board member and officer Martha Milnes was darned good, too.

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