Backstage Pass to North Dakota History

This blog takes you behind the scenes of the State Historical Society of North Dakota. Get a glimpse at a day-in-the-life of the staff, volunteers, and partners who make it all possible. Discover what it takes to preserve North Dakota's natural and cultural history.

An Interview with a Tour Guide

Below is an interview I did with Ronald Reagan Minuteman Missile State Historic Site (RRMMSHS) tour guide Jeni Croy. In case you missed her last post (, Jeni gives tours of a preserved Cold War-era intercontinental missile launch site in Cooperstown…

What is your job?
My job as a site interpreter is to guide guests from all over the country and the world around our site. I educate and inform them about the Cold War and the strategic importance of our site. I take guests around the topside support building and also down fifty feet below ground into the Launch Control Center where missile crews stayed on alert and were ready and willing to launch missiles. I also take them into the Launch Control Equipment Building (LCEB) and show them the “life support” of the Launch Control Center.

What are our visitors like? Who are they?
Our visitors are awesome. People come from all over to take our guided tours. We have a lot of visitors from the local area; people from Cooperstown often bring their families and friends to visit us. Former missileer and topside personnel also visit us on a regular basis to reminisce and show their families what they did when they worked here. We also get people from all 50 states and from all over the world. This summer season alone I have given tours to people visiting from France, India, New Zealand, England, and Germany. There is no specific age range that comes through our site either. We have a kids program to inform and entertain kids and we also give tours that engage all age groups at the same time.

How do you learn to give a good tour?
Practice, practice, practice, and shadowing other people. When I first started working out here I had taken a speech course, so public speaking wasn’t really an issue. It was getting all the history into my head and somehow making it come out as a fun, upbeat tour that was the hard part. I also learned how to ‘read’ my tours. If I saw they were bored at the start I made sure to put at least one smile on their face and make them laugh; or if they were already excited I just keep the fun going. I have traveled all over the world and taken many different tours. I didn’t want to be a boring “tour guide.”

What are some of the challenges of giving tours?
Making sure that younger generations understand why this site was important is challenging. I try to make sure that they see what their parents went through and understand how far we have come in terms of technology today. For example, we have a piece of equipment down below called Teletype. A teletype is a piece of equipment that linked to a communication network connecting to Strategic Air Command and other Launch Control Centers. I first ask the kids if they text, the answer is almost always yes, and then I introduce them to “the great-great-great-grandfather of texting.”

Teletype at Oscar Zero

The Teletype at Oscar Zero

Is talking about nuclear weapons sometimes difficult?
Yes. Sometimes when I talk about the ranks of the people who worked down below (Captain, 1st and 2nd Lieutenant) they are kind of shocked. The ranks were not very high and the people who worked down there were usually young and not paid extremely well. When I explain that our missiles were about 27 times more powerful than the atom bomb, people are shocked. Another fact that is hard to talk about is how expendable the people who worked here were. The people who worked topside were not allowed to go below. Since the site was a direct target for a missile they would not survive a hit. The people below ground were young, had relatively low ranks and were not highly paid so if the thick concrete walls and blast doors did not work, they were also expendable. A lot of people have to take a moment to wrap their minds around those tough truths.

What do you hope visitors are learning when they visit RRMMSHS?
I hope that our visitors can see how important these sites were and appreciate the men and women who helped operate them. I hope they can connect the history of this site with what is going on today, as the U.S. is involved in many nuclear issues right now.

Why do you love your job?
I can’t name one specific reason. I love history, so working at a historic site is a dream come true. I love the people I work with; we all work together and get along so well. I love the visitors that come out and support this place. I am a people person so meeting new people from all over the world is a ton of fun. I also love making sure people smile and enjoy my tours while learning about the site. It’s just a great job no matter how you look at it.

What have you learned by working at RRMMSHS?
I have learned so much about nuclear weapons, the Air Force, the history of the area and the people who worked here. I learned how to connect with people and educate them. I’ve learned so much that I can’t list everything!

What are your future career goals and how do they fit in with working at RRMMSHS?
I am currently working on my B.S. in Recreation and Tourism Studies and I hope to help run, preserve and interpret many other historic sites throughout the U.S. or the world. Working at RRMMSHS is a great example of how bringing history back to life can influence people and local tourism. It is also a great example of teamwork and effort because the State Historical Society and our local supporters worked so hard and put so much time and effort into this site. Without both parties’ help, this site would not be what it is today.

Why is RRMMSHS special?
Why isn’t it special?! It gives people a close-up look at a once top secret facility that once controlled weapons of mass destruction. You can’t get much more amazing and special than that.

Potential Acquisitions

The Museum Division is offered everything from political buttons to cook cars, and we are grateful that people think about preserving items for future generations through the State Historical Society of North Dakota. The Museum Collections Committee needs to be very selective in what is accepted, since we simply do not have the storage space for everything offered to us, especially large items like pianos and buggies. Here are a few items we recently accepted into our collection.

1. Accession 2015.00054 is a wheelchair once owned by Louise Wike and donated by her granddaughter Peggy Wanner.

Peggy’s grandmother's name was Louise Carlson. She came from Norway by herself when she was 28 years old in 1905. Louise heard about the "Free Land" and figured she would settle there, sell it, and get rich. She worked her way to Dickinson, ND, and settled on a homestead in 1909 on the southwest quarter of 24-144-98 in Billings County.

In 1939, Louise lost her left leg due to varicose veins and diabetes. When she came home from the Dickinson hospital her family bought her a wheelchair. She also had an artificial left leg that she would only put on when she went outside with crutches.

Louise Wike's wheelchair and family photo

Louise’s wheelchair is shown here with a footrest. The footrest was taken off later so she could use her other foot to move around the house and have her arms free.

2. Accession 2015.00050 consists of a collection of toys from Sylvia Schmid’s childhood and from her children.

Sylvia’s brother received this Buddy L Dump Truck, still with its original paint, for Christmas. The metal headlights are missing because their sister Louise swallowed one of them in December 1947 when she was one year old. That required a trip from Williston to Minot, where the doctor removed the headlight, costing her parents $75. The doctor asked whether he could keep it to add to the collection of all the things he had removed from people's throats.

Buddy L Dump Truck

3. Accession 2015.00036 is bowling team blouses and shirts with various sponsors worn by the donor, Darlene Brown, from 1952 to 2015.

Darlene wore the shirts to league games and tournaments held at Nicola Bowling, the Bismarck Bowling Alley, Capitol Bowling, Midway Bowling, and 10-Spot Bowling Alleys.

Rodger’s Maytag of Bismarck was their bowling team’s sponsor from 1965 to 2003.

Bowling shirt for team sponsored by Rodger's Maytag of Bismarck