There's no typical day for a junior curator at the Richard I. Bong Veterans Historical Center. The week begins with tours and research, then shifts conducting an oral history of a local veteran. Their final challenge is to share that story with others through a display.
One group will interview their grandfather; one, a parent's bus driver; another, their assistant principal. The finished pieces, on display through early fall at the center, will cover a range of conflicts, military branches and personalities.
Junior curators Emma Raye and Samantha Dandrea, eighth-graders at Superior Middle School, met Scott McIntyre of Superior last week. The Vietnam veteran hugged them when the oral history was done.
"You should hire these people right here," he said. "Talk about interviewers, My God, I felt like I was dealing with Diane Sawyer."
The students had a unit on the Vietnam War in seventh grade, but this was different.
"A book can only tell so much," Dandrea said. "To hear it from an actual veteran is pretty amazing. He had a lot to say."
"I walked in thinking, like, 'Oh, he just went to the war. He represented our country,'" Raye said. "And then I came out shocked from what he'd told us, like how he saved so many people's lives."
The unvarnished account touched on McIntyre's attempts to evade the draft, how he saved fellow soldiers from a burning tank and his return home to anger and protests.
"The stories he had about him coming home were just very heartbreaking, especially in the land of the free," Raye said.
Although he hated the war, McIntyre loves his country. He was affected by Agent Orange, an herbicide used in the war, and now advocates for injured and disabled veterans.
"He talked to these guys about people who were protesting the flag, burning the flag and he said that does not affect him at all," said John Gidley, center education and outreach coordinator. "He said: 'It's your right.' He said: 'That's what I went over to fight for.'"
The new junior curator program runs for nine weeks. A pair of eighth- or ninth-grade students dip their toes into museum work each week, unveiling their display Friday. The program also includes a summer assistant, Superior High School senior Autumn Wolter, who helps both center staff and the junior curators.
"It feels like a real job," Dandrea said. "I was expecting it to be like school, but it's really not."
The center's executive director, Hayes Scriven, modeled the program after one he ran for years at Northfield Historical Society.
"I believe in the program 100 percent because it helps connect students to history," he said. "Or it can excite them about it, so they don't think history is just a boring bunch of dates and people and things that they've never heard of."
Connecting students to a veteran is key.
"He's living history himself," Scriven said. "They're actually able to talk to history, in a sense."
It's brought a new level of excitement to some junior curators.
"Two weeks ago, one of them, he was volunteering, helping with another project - he actually gave some tours of the museum," Gidley said. "They embrace it, which is what we hoped."
The program futhers the center's mission to collect the oral histories of veterans. It also offers a work experience for students and connects the center with families.
"Hopefully, a good byproduct of the program is these guys will stay in touch with us and come back and volunteer and maybe even somewhere down the line apply for a job here," Gidley said. "Everything we're doing is to educate and to get people aware of the museum."
Junior curator displays can be seen as part of regular tours of the center at 305 Harbor View Parkway. Visit the center on Facebook for more information on the junior curators.