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Serving Northern St. Louis County, Minnesota

25 years, 25 stories

Ely museum remembers Dorothy Molter

Keith Vandervort
Posted 2/20/18

ELY - Since the Dorothy Molter Museum opened in Ely on May 6, 1993, numerous personal histories detailing individual experiences with the last resident of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness …

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25 years, 25 stories

Ely museum remembers Dorothy Molter


ELY - Since the Dorothy Molter Museum opened in Ely on May 6, 1993, numerous personal histories detailing individual experiences with the last resident of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness have been added to the museum’s archives.

Here is one:

“My father, Lloyd Grobel, and his buddies visited Dorothy on June 19, 1956. They had a terrible time coming into Knife Lake on the Vera Lake Portage and were thrilled to see a sign that said “Cold Beer” with an arrow (they had never heard of Dorothy Molter). They had a beer and then camped nearby. The next morning a nest of crows was very noisy. My Dad’s buddy shook the tree in frustration. A baby crow tumbled out of the nest. They didn’t know what else to do so they gave the crow to Dorothy. She named the crow “Vera” since they had come through Vera Lake.”

Carrie Grobel, Shorewood, Minn., Aug. 28, 1998

Short, long, casual or intimate, each story provides a opportunity to get to know Dorothy through the perspective of the story-teller. A collection of 25 stories, deemed by museum staff as among their favorites, were included in the program for the Dorothy Molter Museum’s annual fundraising dinner last Friday night at the Grand Ely Lodge.

In welcoming remarks, Pam Brunfelt, president of the Dorothy Molter Foundation’s Board of Directors said, “This remarkable woman in many ways embodies all the changes that women went through in the 20th century.”

Another story:

“I first met Dorothy, I think it was June of 1970. We were on a [co-ed youth] canoe trip with the IsaaK Walton League and we passed through Knife Lake and stopped at Dorothy’s and had a root beer, signing her book on June 26.

“Then again, in 1971, we took another trip of just boys only. On that one we had just 15 on that trip. But again, it was through Don Valand on Moose Lake up through Sucker and of course up through Knife. We again stopped at Dorothy’s and signed her book again.

“And then in 1974, I believe, the wife and I took a trip. Just 10 days prior to our trip, our youngest son had wiped on a bicycle and had 10 stitches in his head. The Doctor, at home at that time, thought the stitches should come out in about 7 to 10 days; we told him we would be in the Boundary Waters but we did know a nurse.

“At that point when we stopped by Dorothy she took our son over to the corner of the island and removed his stiches. We than went about our way. At that point she signed one of her Christmas letters for him and we still have it.

“On these trips we would usually bring Dorothy fresh fruits and vegetables and drop them off. She would be very happy to receive them. Our last trip was in 1984 when we visited her and I remember bringing sweet corn at that time. The wife and I always stopped and we would always chat and drink some of Dorothy’s world famous root beer.”

Bob and Ann Engleson, Aug. 13, 1996

After dinner, the museum’s executive director, Sarah Guy-Levar, introduced a slide show showing the birth and growth of the Dorothy Molter Museum where it stands today on the east side of Ely.

The Minnesota Association of Museums held their annual conference in Ely last fall. During a reception at the museum, a state museum professional impressed upon Levar the culmination of her 11 years as leader of the fledgling little museum in Ely. “She gushed, ‘I love this place,’ and a sudden feeling of relief followed by immense pride washed over me,” Levar said as she choked back tears. “I love this place.”

She continued, “Some of us have grown to love this place, this place with a special mission of fostering the next generation of Northwoods stewards.”

Levar is stepping down as executive director this spring. (See story above ) “This place let me grow as a business woman, a community member, a student, and miraculously as the co-author of a book that is now in its third printing.”

She said it is time for “some new energy to carry on with our mission,” as she announced that Jess Edberg, current visitor services manager, will be taking over the museum’s leadership role.

Levar pointed to Butch Diesslin in particular. “Butch served as my board president for 10 years and was by my side through thick and thin and some very, very hard situations. I am eternally grateful for that gift and your friendship.”

Levar is not completely leaving the Dorothy Molter Museum. “I will be around one day a week for support,” she said. “I have given myself the title of ‘senior tour guide,’” she said.

Edberg began working for the museum in 2014. She said she was energized yet apprehensive about her new job with the museum. She was an ecology teacher at the International Wolf Center. “I could always fall back on the scientific process to find answers,” she said. “Dorothy was a person who embodied characteristics and values that we all aspire to. She represented a time in Ely’s history that is still sensitive to talk about.”

Edberg said her anxiety was replaced with admiration over time. “Here was a woman who throughout her life made choices that defied social convention. I felt a kinship with her and she started to inspire me rather than intimidate me.”

She thanked Levar for guiding her into the position of new executive director. “She can create a sense of family out of a diverse staff, something I aspire to. Sarah is leaving really big shoes to fill. I do feel up to the challenge and I ask for your patience.”

One last story:

My younger sister broke out with red measles while my family was canoeing. Dorothy said she wasn’t sure if root beer would cure them, but it couldn’t hurt!”

Ann Montgomery, Plymouth, Minn., July 18, 2013


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