In Pequot Lakes, the historical society is often working in the background to document and display the city's history. At its helm in recent years has been Karen Bye, a woman who traveled a long, fascinating road to be there.
Bye was born in Pequot Lakes, but she didn't stick around even to graduate. Her parents moved them to Valley City, North Dakota, in 1951, and Bye didn't come back until 2005, after her husband died. It was a real adventure in between.
Bye graduated from West St. Paul High School in 1960, and that was the beginning.
“A girlfriend and I went on an adventure to the West Coast, which isn't overly original,” Bye said. “We wound up going to horse races at Exhibition Park in B.C. (British Columbia). I had never been before. It's very colorful and exciting. I wound up doing that for about 30 years. I married a former jockey, a trainer. We traveled around the United States and got to see different areas we never would have otherwise. We stayed long enough to learn about different places. The East Coast is quite fascinating in all its history and everything.”
Bye and her husband trained and groomed horses, moving from place to place for that time.
“Not everyone is nice with their animals, whether dogs, horses or goats, so you wind up with animals that have been treated poorly and they are a challenge,” Bye said. “You don't want them like that, so we were able to work slowly with a lot of give and take and understanding. We got through to them and they got through to us.”
At that time, Bye indulged in her love of history, something that has always been an interest, though she never before made it more than a hobby.
“I think I was (interested in history in high school), although I was probably typical of teenagers,” Bye said. “My grandparents were alive and I never asked them anything. That's a regret nearly everyone has. I was interested in places more than people. You can walk around places, but with people you have to say the right thing.”
While grooming horses she always stayed in one place long enough to get to know the place and its history. She remembers stumbling across historical location markers in random corn fields in the countryside, and traversing a 20-mile tunnel and bridge system that crosses Chesapeake Bay. She said Washington, D.C., was always one of her favorite places since so much history happened there, though she loved the horse country of Maryland as well.
In 1991, Bye and her husband returned to Minnesota, where she became a licensed practical nurse and worked in a nursing home in St. Cloud until her husband died. Shortly after, she returned to Pequot Lakes and moved to her grandparents' homestead where her cousin, Don Bye, invited her.
She fairly quickly took an interest in local history. She researched genealogy for her own family, tracing her ancestors to Norway, and joined the Pequot Lakes Historical Society.
“I think it was probably just talking to people and seeing the occasional article in the paper or seeing events,” Bye said. “I became aware that there was a historical society and that membership was open. I just joined and started going to meetings and learning about the history of the area and how they got it going; the work they put into the building and what the actual building itself is and was. It's like a whole bunch of things that are more than you thought they were going to be. I wound up participating in the group and getting more interested.”
In 10 years Bye said she has always enjoyed the group's participation in community activities. Each year they have a small fundraising brat sale, they recently started entering a float in the Stars & Stripes Parade for the Fourth of July, and they have long provided scholarships to local students.
The historical society operates the Pequot Lakes Historical Society Museum, which is filled with fascinating artifacts in the basement of the Cole Memorial Building.
Recently, Bye said she has been excited to be part of the group's effort to research and raise awareness for the nearby fire tower and to host space for guest speakers on ice harvesting and the origin of the local Chamber of Commerce. She appreciates her fellow members, many of whom are a wealth of local historical knowledge.
“We have some very interesting, knowledgeable people on our board,” Bye said. “Just listening to them talk about the way things used to be, they seem to have total recall.”
Bye would like to see more oral and written histories from local families. She believes the city has a lot of history that is yet to be uncovered and preserved.
“Someone needs to write a history of Pequot and the Cole Memorial Building and create a better map showing what used to be around town,” Bye said.
Being the president of the Pequot Lakes Historical Society, she is perhaps in the best position to get that started.