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Serving Northern St. Louis County, Minnesota

High school history museum opens at Orr Center

One of many transformations at the old Orr School building, now a community site

David Colburn
Posted 5/9/24

ORR- When a small-town school closes, a community loses a piece of identity, But volunteers at the Orr Center are trying to restore that historical sense of community pride by creating the Orr High …

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High school history museum opens at Orr Center

One of many transformations at the old Orr School building, now a community site


ORR- When a small-town school closes, a community loses a piece of identity, But volunteers at the Orr Center are trying to restore that historical sense of community pride by creating the Orr High School Museum in the former school building.
A sense of school is immediately apparent when looking down the hall after entering the building. On one wall is the scoreboard from the basketball gym and a huge circular Orr Braves mascot sign made by a school shop class, and opposite that are display cases filled with music and athletic memorabilia. Looking straight ahead one sees athletic lockers decked out with old uniforms, and next to that a desk with a typewriter honoring the school’s Quill and Scroll student journalism honor society chapter.
Turning the corner, one finds a centerpiece of the museum, a large glass display case highlighting the exploits of the Orr High basketball team under the leadership of legendary Coach Bill King. King donated a number of items he was given over the years for the display, and on a recent visit gave the center a $5,000 donation to continue developing the museum.
“He put us on the map, that’s what he did,” said Wendy Purdy. “That’s wonderful for a little town like this. So we have his stuff.”
Across from the King display in another long row of display cases containing all sorts of trophies won by the school’s athletes and students.
“We always knew we wanted to do something with the history because it was here, all this stuff was here,” said Purdy. “We knew that people would enjoy viewing it as we go forward. There was almost 80 years in the school that we don’t want to disappear, so we thought well, let’s do what we can.”
So far, almost everything in the museum was already in the building, some of it needing some tender loving care to be museum ready, like the trophies.
“There were a lot of broken trophies from years and years ago, and we tried to pull out as many as we could and clean them up,” Purdy said. “There was pieces that had fallen off, and nameplates and things like that, and there’s still a bunch that need repair, but we’ll keep working on them and try to get more of them put out.”
Keeping with sports vein, Purdy said that they also have Bill King’s scrapbooks filled with newspaper clippings about his teams.
“We’re going to try to find a way to laminate those and put them out so people can sit down and flip through them,” she said.
But she emphasized that this is not just a place for former athletes to come and reminisce.
“This is more than just sports,” Purdy emphasized. “We have the Quill and Scroll display where we brought out the old typewriter and desk so people could see how that was.”
Back in the entry hallway, Purdy pointed to some other non-sports features.
“These cases here we pulled from the science labs; this one has things from the choir when they went to Florida, and the band. Then there’s some local award stuff in there, too, that was brought in. So we’re trying to hit more than sports.”
And for folks wanting an even deeper dive into the school’s history, there’s a case that contains most of the school’s old yearbooks and numerous bound copies of the school newspaper.
“I have almost all of them,” Purdy said about the yearbooks. “I think I’m missing maybe four years from in the beginning, but otherwise I think we have them all. And we have all the copies of the newspaper, so we can go back and look at what happened, when and who was involved. So we have a lot of information to share with people.”
Two of the main reactions from visitors that Purdy has seen are excitement and happiness, she said.
“To keep it alive, I think that’s the biggest part,” she said. “There’s a lot of ‘Oh, that was mine,’ or ‘I had that,’ or ‘Come look, that’s me in the picture.’ So it’s exciting. It’s Orr history. This is what we had, and to keep it alive is important.”

Center updates
If a museum visitor wants to sit down for a leisurely look through a yearbook, they can carry it around the corner and take a comfortable seat in the Orr Center’s new coffee shop. The hallway location has been outfitted with a row of tables and chairs situated in a book lover’s paradise. Bookshelves line the wall behind the tables, and the wall of the inclined corridor leading to an expanded portion of the thrift store has more books still, tucked in a decorative tiered set of bookshelves built and installed by volunteers. All the books are organized by topic and alphabetized and were relocated from the main thrift store and are for sale for $1 each. You won’t find a Starbucks-style menu, but a cup of java from the big coffee pot is a satisfying sipper for anyone who wants to browse or just come in for a place to meet with friends. And you can also enjoy a fanciful north country mural that students painted on one of the walls that remains in excellent condition.
Moving the books freed up room for more merchandise in the thrift store, which has a more open feel with reconfigured clothes racks. Household items have a new home in the space that once housed the Rusty Pelican. Purdy said that the center board is renewing the original focus of the center as a nonprofit community-focused operation.
And as part of that community focus, the most significant change to the thrift store is the pricing. It’s been slashed.
“We’re much cheaper, all of our pricing has dropped way down so we can move product out,” Purdy said. “We move the two rooms from the other end of the building where the housewares were up here, so everything’s contained in this wing. It’ll make it easier to shop now that you’re not running to the other end of the building to get something. It’s a whole new look.”
Also open to the public is the center’s library and art studio.
“The art room is usable for anybody who wants to come,” Purdy said. “Our garden club meets in the art studio in one room and then they go into the other room to do their gardening. We have a lot of product as far as supplies, everything from stained glass to painting to drawing, sewing, and quilting, we have all the stuff here they need. Hopefully down the road we’ll have lots of classes going on in there.”
Another plan for the future is the Orr Mercantile, an upscale version of the thrift store with “antiques, artwork, higher end things that maybe were donated that we don’t want to sell for $2,” Purdy said. “This will be another more touristy kind of place. It may be mid-June by the time we get that open. Down the road we hope to have a little coffee shop with ice cream down there. Volunteerism is going to be the biggest thing as to whether or not we can make it work because now we’ll have two stores to staff, not one.”
The center has also collaborated with the Orr Lions Club on a community food shelf, and some reconfiguration has allowed that operation to expand as well, now equipped with more shelving and a freezer.
Purdy likes to describe everything at the center as a “work in progress,” and with an active and engaged board and some new volunteers, new ideas are flowing fast and free, with the whole purpose focused on serving the needs of the community.
Purdy said they would welcome any donations of school memorabilia that folks may have tucked away that they would want to share. And she’s particularly interested in recovering some of the missing sports trophies that may have disappeared when the school closed. Drop by the center with donations of any kind on Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays from 10 a.m-3 p.m. Donations may also be dropped off at Manick Docks and Recreation, 9240 Hwy 115 in Cook from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday through Friday.