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Meet John and Leslie Garner

Meet the GarnersWhen the Minnesota Historical Society put out a call for volunteers for its Our Gathering Places: African Americans in Minnesota exhibit, John and Leslie Garner of St. Paul were quick to help.

Active in social and civic clubs and as volunteers with other organizations, the Garners weren't shy about asking their friends and acquaintances to spread the word. "We made lists of friends, clubs, old-timers, various groups," said Leslie, a retired elementary school teacher. "We did the telephoning, and encouraged people to come to some of the meetings. People were very excited because it was the first time the History Center had focused so heavily upon the history of African Americans in the state-- a whole exhibit dedicated to our day-to-day life, how we passed on housing, school or job information through community networks."

The exhibit features two settings that evoke community life-- a barber shop and a beauty salon-- and has engaged young and old African Americans as well as others. "The exhibit has been able to help people understand African American culture when it came to the places they gathered or the social and community aspects," says John, a retired 3M executive, who along with Leslie continues to volunteer in the gallery as an interpreter.

"People from out of town, groups from up north, Native Americans and others spend a long time looking at the exhibit," says Leslie. "Some visitors have said their mother or uncle used to live on Rondo Avenue, or their grandfather went to Central High, and they want to find out more about it. They are going back into their own lives."

One young woman visited the exhibit, and told John that her grandfather had lived in St. Paul for some time. John asked the young woman her grandfather's name, and helped her to find him in one of the historic photos in the exhibit. "She was very excited," said John. "People can really identify with this exhibit."

The Garners were asked to serve on the exhibit team's "Front Four" by guest curator David Taylor, who is dean of the General College at the University of Minnesota. Along with Dorothea Burns and Margie Tendle, the Garners advised the team on the exhibit's early development, assisted with prototype testing, and helped locate more than 30 volunteers to work in the gallery or for events associated with the exhibit.

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