Neoma Laken : With Pen in Hand, History IS Alive! [UPDATED]Published 6:43am Thursday, May 9, 2013 Updated 6:46am Thursday, May 9, 2013
Breckenridge is now known as the Headwaters of the Red – perhaps its major designation. Neoma has taken this fact and turned it into the city’s major asset, through an unusual beginning. Although she grew up near Doran, MN, fascinated by facts – an only child who wore on her parents’ patience with all her questions – she says she was interested because they were interested. Always the student with an insatiable curiosity to learn more, the high school valedictorian took a job with a local law firm and learned much about the legal terms surrounding land deals. Her career path took her to the Wilkin County Recorder’s office where she served and researched until her retirement.
“For all of those years I served as Recorder, when people came in to have land recorded or deeded, we would visit and I would learn more and more about the county. I was fascinated about the land history – the mapping, the movement and development. People would give me additional facts and I would record those on a sticky note and toss it into a cardboard box. That box became two boxes and then more and they turned into the real Wilkin County history file.”
Neoma’s interest in history is what sparked her enthusiasm for bettering her community. “The city has always meant a lot to me,” she insists. “I guess when I was raised I never knew there was an option not to serve. By example, my parents taught me to expect that everybody did this – you take ownership in your community.” Neoma’s interest has paid off in big and fun ways for her community. The city now boasts a historic walking trail, a railroad park, an outdoor performing stage, a memorial to the country’s shortest run streetcar line – from Breckenridge to Wahpeton – and a monument and park with the official designation of Head of The Red/Headwaters of the Red River of the North. The Headwaters/Red River has been designated a recreational boating and canoe trail. But only a few years ago, the Red River wasn’t even mapped. Over the years, Neoma had gathered lots of information about land along the river – uses and drainage, landings, territorial towns. She researched how early settlers traveled and traded by canoe on their journey north and wondered why the river couldn’t be utilized more for recreation today. As a pioneer of river history, she and a volunteer effort called Project Breckenridge have worked through the state legislature and with the DNR to create a master plan that included mapping, signage and historical designations from Breckenridge all the way to the Canadian border.
Headwater refers to the drainage basin of the Red River – where the Bois de Sioux and Ottertail rivers meet the Red River as the only north directional river in the US.
Introducing historic personalities to the community is one of Neoma’s favorite pastimes. “The ancestors who paved trails on their own journeys can inspire us,” she remarks. Through pageants she writes and directs, Neoma and other actors provide a glimpse into the past that shaped the present area – including Native Americans, traders, politicians, river guides and entrepreneurs. Always delightful performances, she has also expanded her repertoire to include portrayals of biblical women (none of whom were from Wilkin County!)
Not the “unofficial historian” through research only, Neoma continues her legacy of penning newspaper articles, producing pageants, writing grants, and creating pamphlets and brochures promoting the area through its history. She also has authored a book about the Red River, Winding Journey to History.
Neoma Laken is making sure that history will be kind to Breckenridge, MN. And we thank her for it.
By Maggie Vertin