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'I remember Uncle Lester and how the family was so impressed that he was a teacher at this college. He was so well regarded in the family with that achievement. I thought I could keep them and they would disintegrate or I could take them where he spent his life and people would have access to them.”
--Mary Murphy

University Communications

Grandniece donates Hartnett letters to MSU

MINOT, N.D. – Mary Murphy, the grandniece of Lester and Eva Hartnett, donated letters written by Lester during World War I to Minot State University during an event Wednesday morning in the building that bears the Harnett name.

Murphy handed over letters – penned from Lester to his sisters, Katherine and Margaret, in 1918 and 1919 – to Minot State faculty members Joseph Jastrzembski and Daniel Ringrose from the history department along with Bill Harbort from the art department.

“I had these letters passed down to me when my mother died in 1979,” Murphy said. “I was in my 30s and that is probably too young to really understand the significance of them. I read them when I first got them and put them away.

“I remember Uncle Lester and how the family was so impressed that he was a teacher at this college. He was so well regarded in the family with that achievement. I thought I could keep them and they would disintegrate or I could take them where he spent his life and people would have access to them.”

Lester and Eva Hartnett both taught at Minot State University for 34 years, helping build the fine arts department. The university dedicated Hartnett Hall on Dec. 10, 1976, as the home of the art, theater, broadcasting, and language departments. It also contains a theater for performances, Aleshire Theater, and an art gallery to host exhibits from around the country as well as from faculty, staff, and students at Minot State.

“I had a cousin who lived in Grand Forks and she sent me a letter that said, ‘You won’t believe what we found, there’s a building on the Minot State campus called Hartnett Hall,’” Murphy recalled. “When I decided to donate the letters, I knew we had to come here to deliver them. When we first drove up and saw it, I was just, ‘wow, there it is.’ It’s a magnificent building.”

The letters are significant for Minot State’s history department as the university plans to rededicate the World War I Memorial in the spring.

“This is a wonderful thing for us, a real piece of history,” Jastrzembski said. “This is the anniversary of the United States’ entrance into the first world war and many Minot State faculty, staff, and students played a role during that war. We plan to rededicate the memorial on campus in May and this is a part of a larger story about the war.”

According to Murphy, the letters contain information on Lester preparing for war and his eventual tour of duty in France as well as his time spent in France studying after the war.

“Some of the letters are about just being in the military and not knowing what was going on or what was happening, but some are about being in the battles and in the trenches,” she said. “One mentions being likely gassed. Some were after he was chosen to stay in France and go to school, which was a really neat experience for him.

“It was interesting to me that he was very matter-of-fact in them. He talked about these things that were very traumatic and most of it was, ‘we did this, we did that.’ It made me think of what kind of person he was to not be traumatized by these events. 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.”

According to Jastrzembski, the university will digitize and preserve the letters and will determine a permanent home for the correspondence at a later date.

Published: 10/12/17



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