History hits Hartnett Hall
Mary Murphy, the grandniece of Lester and Eva Hartnett, recently donated a piece of history from World War I to Minot State University in the building that bears the couple’s name. Murphy delivered letters, written by Lester Hartnett during his time spent as a soldier, that give insight into the history of the former Minot State University professor.
“You get a feeling for the whole person,” Murphy said of the letters her uncle penned. “He’s remembered here for being a professor, but this is when he was a young man and went off to war, and the things he experienced which were very historical.”
The letters, written from 1918 to 1919, chronicle Lester Hartnett’s various endeavors during the war and were originally written to his sisters, Katherine and Margaret. Though important to the family, Murphy saw the value in having the letters rest permanently where her uncle and aunt dedicated 34 years of their lives building the fine arts department.
“I remember Uncle Lester and how I was always impressed that he was this teacher at this college. That was very important in our family, and he was well regarded for having that achievement. I thought I could keep them and they could disintegrate or I would take them where he spent his life and people would have access to them,” Murphy said.
Murphy was awed by Hartnett Hall and excited to be there; she had only just recently learned that there was a building on the campus that was dedicated to her family.
“My cousin lives north of Grand Forks, and one day she sent me a picture standing in front of this building and she said, ‘You won’t believe what’s on campus in Minot, there’s a building named Hartnett Hall,’” Murphy exclaimed. “She was so excited, I thought I have to go there. When I came across the letters I thought, now I have an excuse to go.”
Though only experiencing the building for the first time, Murphy’s impressions of Hartnett Hall were overwhelmingly positive.
“Oh, it’s amazing, just amazing. Just a magnificent building,” Murphy remarked.
The donation of the letters comes at a time when the history department here at Minot State is planning to do a rededication, in honor of the 100th anniversary of World War I, with a memorial in the spring.
“This is a real piece of history,” Joseph Jastrzembski, history professor, said of the letters. “Many Minot State students, faculty, and staff played a role during the war; we actually had two casualties. We plan to rededicate the World War I memorial in May; these letters are part of a larger story about Minot State.”
Murphy stated that the letters themselves depict description of Hartnett’s time in the field and in the trenches, being gassed, and other experiences as well.
“Some were after he was chosen to stay in France and go to school, which was a really neat experience for him,” Murphy said. “I think he looked at it like it was not just fighting for his country, but something he got to do — an adventure he got to take.”
The letters will be digitized, due to their fragile nature and once digitized they will be stored until a place and time for exhibition can be determined.