Bong Center engages youth in history

Middle school students collected oral histories and high school students shared stories as Heavy Metal Tour guides.

Tech Sgt. Kristi Konietzko, from left, poses for a photo with Liv and Kate Christner after Konietzko's display was unveiled Friday, July 31, at the Richard I. Bong Veterans Historical Center. (Shelley Nelson /

A pair of programs at the Richard I. Bong Veterans Historical Center are engaging area youth in the retelling of military stories.

The Junior Curators, middle school students, are capturing and displaying the stories of area service members past and present, while high school students in the Bong Squadron are guiding the Heavy Metal Tours at the Bong Center.

“When someone comes in, I go up and introduce myself,” said Elaina Hanson, a junior. “I tell them I’m still in high school so I’m not a professional, but I sure try. I take them out to the tank through the front door and I tell them about the tank. I help them take pictures with the tank so they can get the family in the photo.”

Sometimes people have interesting information about the tank or about the military to share, she said.

For Hanson, it’s the second time she’s participated in the Bong Squadron program, which was initiated last year. She said guiding tours of the museum has helped her come out of her shell and learn how to interact with people.


“I think it’s really important to move history to the next generation,” Hanson said.

Middle school students are learning by capturing the stories of service members and veterans to add to the Bong Center’s collection.

“We have a pretty robust oral history program right now,” said Briana Fiandt, curator of the Bong Center. “We have almost 700 oral histories in the collection right now, and so they’re adding to the collection. The oral histories they collect will be cataloged and inventoried.”

Fiandt said the oral histories captured by the middle school students will be available for scholars or researchers in the future.

“My favorite part about this program is that it connects the generations,” Fiandt said. “I really love seeing how appreciative the veterans are of the attention and recognition. I think it gives the kids a greater appreciation of what the other generations have gone through.”

Under the Junior Curators program, students are initially vetted by their teachers and write an essay about why they want to participate, said Bobbijean Miller, who works with the students during the week-long program. On the first day, students get an overview of the program and what they will be doing. They also practice their interviewing skills with Miller, one another and the director and veteran volunteers at the Bong Center.

Then they read a brief write-up of the veteran they will be interviewing to prepare for their interview.

On the third day, Wednesday, students get a behind-the-scenes look at the Bong Center.


“They get to walk around the archives, the collections vault downstairs, and basically see everything the museum has that’s not available,” Miller said. “That’s always the highlight.”

Liv Christner, 14, said the tour Wednesday was “super cool” because it’s all the artifacts that aren’t on display in the museum.

After their tour, they interview the veteran they were paired with and create a display about the person. The displays are featured in the Bong Center gallery for the next year, said John Gidley, the Bong Center's education program coordinator.

This year students captured the stories of state Rep. Nick Milroy, a Navy veteran; Lt. Davan Scott with the Twin Ports Naval Cadets; and Christopher Henry, Amy McMillan and Kristi Konietzko, members of the 148th Fighter Wing.

Liv and her sister, Kate, 12, were putting the finishing touches on their display about Konietzko, a technical sergeant with 148th Fighter Wing in Duluth, before the new addition to the collection was unveiled Friday, July 31.

Liv and Kate said Konietzko graduated from high school in Cloquet and went to basic training in 2013 at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas. She received advance training in Biloxi, Mississippi and rose to the rank of technical sergeant in the minimum six years.

Liv said Konietzko’s story was inspiring and made her consider the Air Force as an option in her future.

“It’s something I would want to do now after she explained all the experiences and benefits,” Liv said.


Overall, the experience is one the students said they enjoyed.

“It was super fun,” Liv said.

Kate, left, and Liv Christner work on a display featuring Tech. Sgt Kristi Konietzko of the 148th Fighter Wing as part of the Junior Curators program at the Richard I. Bong Veterans Historical Center. The girls collected Konietzko's oral history last week and the display will be exhibited at the center for the next year. (Shelley Nelson /

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