Katie Ribbens—Staff Writer
A gray-haired man studies a worn monochrome photo in Roelofs General Store. Then, with a decisive nod, he points a gnarled finger to a little boy seated at the feet of two stone-faced adults. “That was my dad,” he says to those nearby. A woman sits at the back of the one-room schoolhouse, built in 1928, and waves to an old tin lunchbox with peeling pine green paint. “That lunch box was mine,” she says with a twinkle in her eyes.
Sioux Center is not known for having a lot to do. COVID-19 isn’t known for allowing events to happen. This year’s Harvest Festival at the Sioux Center Heritage Village has defied both of those odds. This family-friendly event on September 18-19 offered walks through century-old buildings, fun interactions with a hand-operated cider press, sheep shearing, a monarch butterfly exhibit, and a display of valuable trinkets from decades past, some as old as 1886.
“It’s truly fun for us to share our history, hear kids asking questions, seeing grandparents share memories of their own childhood,” said Colleen Van Berkum, a member of the Heritage Board, in an interview with Sioux Center News.
While special events like the Harvest Festival only occur about once each season, the Heritage Village is open to the public year-round. Buildings are available for rent at events, and the 70 varieties of trees attract members from the community to photograph, collect leaves for school projects, or simply provide a scenic venue for a walk. Anna Herman, a freshman at Dordt University, remembers collecting leaves for a school project when she was younger.
“I was excited to be here,” Herman said while attending this year’s Harvest Festival. “It’s been years.”
Many members of the community have contributed to the Heritage Village in some way. Buildings, stowed-away trinkets, and stories have been shared and volunteers have worked tirelessly to preserve Sioux Center history.
The Heritage Village seeks to educate the next generation about everything from protecting the environment to sharing about life during wartimes.
“Seventy-five years ago, World War Two ended,” Heritage Board member Linda Altena said. “We would like to honor our veterans in Sioux Center.”
But this mission is on a ticking clock.
The city is not funding new projects and Sioux Center organizations are making bids for the land. While Dordt donated the Kuhl House and some students visit the public grounds, many don’t realize that the village exists on the other side of the road. The Heritage Village is hidden behind its 190 trees, out of sight from many Dordt students.
“We would love to have more participation from Dordt students,” Altena said.
But Dordt has other ideas. The University is pushing for Sioux Center to build an indoor turf facility on Open Space Park, part of which is currently in use by the Heritage Village. The Village can’t move without irrecoverably damaging the buildings or killing the trees. It’s a stalemate.
“Our heart is to be a good citizen and I think a community asset like this will be one of the best uses of resources we could add,” said Dordt’s President Erik Hoekstra in a Sioux Center News article.
Hoekstra also hopes that students can gain leadership and management experience at this facility.
Heritage Board members worry that their voices aren’t being heard.
“Why would you really wipe this village out when we’re in Iowa. There’s so much land around us,” Van Berkum said. “It would be easier to move a soccer field than to move a village.”
Herman, who runs track at Dordt, would rather see the Village kept where it is than to have use of an indoor facility across the road.
Dordt freshman Mckenna Gorsline attended the Harvest Festival event and agrees that it would be difficult to move even part of the Heritage Village to make room for a new complex.
“It definitely would not be the same,” Gorsline said.
The Heritage Board sees untapped potential at the Village. They would like to add more buildings, find a full-time caretaker, and maybe even turn the Kuhl House into a bed & breakfast.
“The city’s just putting the kibosh on everything,” Altena said.
While the Heritage Board is trying to keep Sioux Center history alive in the village, they are also facing a new battle with keeping the festival going. If they fail to endear the Village to the public, this year’s Harvest Festival may have been the last.