Community project fueled by local hunter

Dennis and Ruby Anderson and their daughter, Cheryl, in the Safari Room at the Dawson Bank Museum. Contributed photo

Hard to believe that a BB gun purchased by Dennis and Ruby Anderson for their son, Steven, nearly 60 years ago likely led to the town of Dawson now having a new museum.

“I put up a target for him to practice shooting his BB gun, and it kind of led to all this,” said Dennis, while spreading his arms out in a way to showcase the new Safari Room located in the back of the museum.

The community museum is housed in the former First National Bank building, which was built in 1892 and was once on the National Registry. The Dawson Bank Museum, as it is officially called, is located on Sixth Street in the business district.

Steven Anderson lived life to the fullest before he passed away at age 60 in 2014 from myelodysplastic syndromes, a group of cancers in the blood.

The Dawson native progressed from that first BB gun to hunting trips with his father to places like Montana, Wyoming and Canada.

“(Steven) bagged his first buck at age 14,” recalled his father. “From there, he was hooked on hunting for the rest of his life.”

Steven then began to travel to Africa, making five separate safari hunting trips. He eventually guided others on similar types of trips with his business called “Anderson’s African Safaris.”

With an abundance of taxidermied animal heads, pelts, antlers, fish and more, Dennis, Ruby and their daughter, Cheryl, were unsure what to do with Steven’s trophy room following his passing.

“He was so proud of his trophy room,” said Dennis. “A sporting firm made an offer, but we would probably never see them again.”

The exterior of the Dawson Bank Museum.
Photo by Scott Thoma

An opportunity arose for the Andersons when the vacant and crumbling First National Bank building was about to be razed.

“A couple of efforts had been made to make it into a museum,” said Dennis. “But nothing ever materialized.”

The building was eventually purchased by Dr. Aaron Babb, who had treated Steven at times during the final stages of his disease at the hospital in Dawson. Dr. Babb was initially going to turn the former bank building into a health food store.

When that project eventually fell through, Dr. Babb heard about the plan for a museum and the Andersons need for a place to house their son’s trophies, so he graciously donated the building.

And, with a generous contribution from the Anderson Memorial Fund and a host of volunteers, an extensive renovation project was soon underway.

“This was truly a senior project with an 88 year old supervisor and the youngest worker 60-plus years old,” said Dennis, admitting that he is the 88 year old. “When some of the material would get too heavy for these old people a group called ‘Farmers for Dawson’ would step in and save the day.”

Now these trophy mounts and other items Steve obtained on his various trips around the world can be enjoyed by visitors to the Bank Museum, which was renovated beginning in March 2017 and completed in November.

“Three-fourths of the building will be a (community) museum and the other one-fourth is Steve’s Safari Room,” Dennis explained.

As you ascend a flight of steps inside the museum to the first floor, a wall was prepared for a contracted local artist to paint a mural in the likeness of a photo of Main Street in Dawson in 1910.

The original vault from the bank remains in the museum for historical purposes. The bank was robbed in 1930 by two men brandishing guns. The gunmen herded four employees and four customers into the small and dark vault and locked them all in.

The old bank vault is one highlight of the Dawson Bank Museum.
Photo by Scott Thoma

With their air supply dissipating quickly in the 10-plus minutes they were locked in, the eight people inside the vault were eventually rescued by a citizen after an employee barked the combination numbers to him from inside the vault.

There is also a small room in the museum called “Daw’s Restaurant” that includes a framed birth certificate of Helmer (”Daws”) Dawson Carlson, the first person born in Dawson, hanging on the wall.

Other areas of the museum are adorned with donated items from community members.

“We’re getting items donated to the museum all the time,” said Ruby Anderson.

The building is owned by Dawson Historical Properties, Inc. While the museum is run by a local board of directors, the Andersons will manage the Safari Room.

At the stairway landing en route to the second floor is an area dedicated to all the volunteers that donated their time and services to turn the former bank into a museum.

The second floor of the museum includes a veterans’ area that honors all Dawson natives who served their country, including the military uniforms worn by Steven and Dennis. There is a room on that floor for the Masons, whose lodge was chartered on that floor in 1892.

Once inside the Safari Room, the view is impressive from all four sides, with numerous familiar and unfamiliar animal heads and skins, such as a cape buffalo, gazelle, zebra, wild boar, eland, kudu and gemsbok adorning the walls.

There are also numerous trinkets and souvenirs Steven picked up on his African trips, as well as many other items belonging to the family.

When Steven Anderson would plan to go on a safari hunt to Africa, he would make sure the natives there would benefit from his trips.

“Steve was a very generous man,” his mother Ruby told. “He would give all his clothes to the people there and come home with just the clothes on his back. He would also bring candy for the children there.”

And the animals Steven bagged would also aid those in need.

Dennis showing the world map where his son, Steven, had traveled. Photo by Scott Thoma

“On some of his trips, he would get involved in a government culling program,” said Dennis. “He bagged over 50 animals and would then be entitled to the heads and hides, and the natives would keep the meat.”

The heads and hides would be taxidermied over there and then shipped back to Dawson.

The trips proved costly, but Steven had worked hard during his life to be able to make these adventures possible.

“Steven was a conscientious worker and sometimes held three jobs,” his father said. “He owned 80 or 90 guns. After he passed away, we gave some of the guns to people he wanted to have them.

“He also requested that we do something for the Boy Scouts where he had been an Eagle/Explorer Scout,” said Dennis. “From his memorial fund, a log cabin meeting den was constructed on the Lac qui Parle River shore along with a picnic area and a dock where they could use two canoes he had donated.”

Steven also spent 5 1/2 years with the Navy Seabees in many parts of the world. A world map is located on one wall in the Safari Room with colored stick pins indicating all the places Steven had been to.

“He once circled the globe,” Dennis said proudly, before pointing out the route on the map that his son took.

The Dawson Bank Museum will hold its grand opening during the town’s Winterfest celebration Feb. 1-3.

For a schedule of the hours the museum is open, visit the Dawson Bank Museum Facebook page. Or to schedule an appointment, call 320-769-2047 or 320-769-4849.