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JUNE 2011
Michigan Humanities Council Newsletter
  Radio Project Aimed to Connect Longtime Three Oaks Residents and Newcomers

Carolyn Drier of Drier's Meat MarketFor years the small, rural community of Three Oaks has been a draw for nearby Chicagoans looking to escape city living. Yet, each wave of newcomers brings change to the the town and highlighting differences between newcomers and longtime residents.

As the community of 1,700 continues to heal from an economic disaster in which its finances were turned over to the State of Michigan,Dan Collison and Elizabeth Meister believed it was more important than ever for all residents to feel united. In an effort to change this division, he national, award-winning producers engaged the community in an oral history project called Community Anthology: The Region of Three Oaks, funded in part by a grant from the Michigan Humanities Council.

“For the people who’ve lived here a long time, they have immediate set suspicions,” Meister said. “And you can flip this on its head, too. We come into the community and have lots of suspicions on how these people are. Unless you take the time to get to know people, it really won’t be a cohesive community out here.”

Collison and Meister, of Long Haul Productions, moved from Chicago to Three Oaks in 2005 with the intent to begin an oral history project. Faced with mixed reactions from residents upon the move, they took some time getting settled and learning about the area before starting work on the project. As the team produced stories on the high school football team and Three Oaks Poet Laureate, they began to think about the issues each group had with each other.

What Collison and Meister discovered is that each group approached the other with preconceived ideas or opinions. Chicagoans don’t always try to reach out to the community and get to know its residents; longtime residents don’t feel welcome in new storefronts, but don’t make an effort to meet newcomers. Thus the divide is never breached.

Breaking Barriers Sara and Jesse Tractor
In an effort to create dialogue between the groups, Collison and Meister set out to capture the stories of old and new residents, and life in Three Oaks. Ten oral interviews were broadcast on the local radio three times a week and the radio transcripts were published in the local newspaper.

However, getting residents to talk about this unsettling issue was more difficult than Collison and Meister may have imagined.

“We were persistent,” Collison said. “We did a lot of stopping on our bicycles and getting out of the car and explaining what we were doing. One guy we never got; we tried for months. So yeah, it wasn’t easy.”

Meister went on to add, “For the 10 interviews that we did, we probably made contact with at least 25, or more like 30. And some of those 10, like Dan said, we got because we were so annoying. It was really tough.”

Once residents agreed to be a part of the project, they sat with Collison and Meister for hours sharing family histories and stories of their lives in Three Oaks. Interviewees included residents of varying ages, some who had never left Three Oaks and others who were just starting out in the community.

“The people we met as a result of doing this, everyone is remarkable. They are really, really good people. It makes me feel really comfortable and happy knowing that this is a place I get to be a part of,” Meister said.

Collison and Meister are in discussion with the Friends of Three Oaks to hold a community forum that would build on the issues raised in this project and create a continuing dialogue between the Three Oaks generations.

Long Haul Productions has produced more than 130 stories and documentaries for NPR programs and contributes oral histories and interviews to museums and other nonprofits. To hear audio or read transcripts of these interviews, visit www.communityanthology.org.

If your organization is interested in pursuing a humanities project grant from the Michigan Humanities Council, please see www.michiganhumanities.org for deadlines, and applicant and application requirements.

 

 

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