Last calls for honorees at Erie Mining Company

HOYT LAKES — The Erie Mining Company History Project team is making a last call for those interested in recognizing someone associated with the historic Erie/LTV Steel Mining Co., plant.

Submission deadline for the “in honor” and “in memory” section of the book, “Taconite: New Life for Minnesota’s Iron Range,” has been extended to Sept. 1, said Mike Sterk, a former LTV employee and project team member.

So far, more than 150 people have donated in honor or memory of someone, he said.

Names will be listed in a special area of the book, which is expected to be published by the end of October.

The book is part of a multi-pronged, nonprofit endeavor — now five years in the works — to keep alive the stories of the 10,000 workers employed at the mine during its life, and to honor Erie’s significance on the Iron Range and to the world.

The mine, after all, was the world’s first taconite concentrating and pelletizing plant using commercial-sized equipment, and it proved that taconite could be mined on a large scale.

The project tells the story of Erie Mining’s laboratory and PreTac days to its closure in 2001 to the future of mining.

Anyone who worked at Erie/LTV or was part of the community — including family members, business owners, vendors, service providers and governmental agencies — can be recognized via a minimum recommended $50 contribution.

Submission forms are located on the St. Louis County Historical Society’s website, www.thehistorypeople.org.

Pre-publication orders of the book are currently being reserved for $35 on the website’s store page. The post-publication price will be $45.

“Anyone who buys the book will have access to all the (online) research in the cloud, including flow sheets and pictures — things we couldn’t use in the book,” Sterk said.

The book’s editing and review phase is nearing completion, he said. “The editor expects to get everything up to us next week, and we expect it will take a couple weeks to review. We are looking at the end of October to have it published.”

It’s been a long time coming, Sterk said. He and a group of former Erie/LTV employees began working on the project in mid-2014.

Their initial idea was to put together a little publication to preserve the history of the mine. “It’s really evolved” since then, he noted.

The more than $475,000 project includes the 11-chapter book, more than 150 oral histories, a traveling exhibit, a permanent museum exhibit, and an educational online package based on the book for high school and early college students.

It now has an additional component — a scholarship program.

The team is establishing a perpetual fund that will award one $1,000 scholarship each spring to a student in the Mesabi East School District who is studying in the STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) field.

The scholarships will be in the Erie Mining Co., name — “to keep the name alive,” Sterk said. “Most kids in school today were not around when the mine closed.”

Funding for the Erie Mining Company History Project has come from many sources, including mining-related companies, grants and state funding and in-kind donations.

Revenue remaining from sales of the book will go into the scholarship account. “We also already have some money donated” to the fund, Sterk said.

Last year, the project’s traveling exhibit was unveiled.

It consists of four trifold panels depicting a snapshot of Erie Mining Co.’s history and future of the plant’s location. Each panel is illuminated with a light encased in a lamp shade adorned with Erie’s red and black logo.

The exhibit traveled from Hoyt Lakes to Aurora; was displayed the St. Louis County Fair in Chisholm, and for six months has been located at Minnesota Discovery Center in Chisholm. Sterk said the team is working on future locations, including in the Twin Cities.

The permanent museum exhibit will be constructed at the county historical society’s museum at the Duluth Depot. The project team partnered with the society when it became evident the endeavor had grown bigger than publishing a historical book.

The interactive exhibit will include the history of mining and mineral development in Minnesota. Project developers plan to meet with consultants in the fall, Sterk said.

Work is also progressing on the online learning package, he said.

The team is working in cooperation with the Iron Mining Association of Minnesota to provide educators with a free digitized copy of the book, complete with photos, maps, graphs and charts, along with a curriculum guide, instructor support and student learning materials.

“We have two former educators who are (currently) putting together the first chapter lesson plan,” Sterk said. “It’s a pretty exciting portion of the project that will educate younger folks in the area.”

Sterk said audio versions and transcripts of the oral histories will be available at the Aurora, Hoyt Lakes and Ely public libraries, and at Minnesota Discovery Center.

And when the 5,000 copies of the book are in print, 3,500 will be provided free of charge to all school libraries (including colleges) in the state, plus to all libraries in the Arrowhead Library System.

Everyone who participated in the oral history project and major donors will also receive a free copy.

Work will continue after the book is published, Sterk said, including “putting stuff in the cloud.”

The project has definitely become “more than just a book,” he said.

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