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St. Louis County Historical Society works to return family’s donated war items

DULUTH, MN — A couple who donated their family’s war items two decades ago to the St. Louis Historical Society is asking for those items back, but there’s a problem.

According to the family, the Historical Society doesn’t know where all the items are. It’s a situation the Historical Society says has never happened before.

“It’s very unusual that items are donated to the St. Louis County Historical Society, then ask that we return them,” Dennis Hughes, Chairman of the Veterans Memorial Hall Advisory Committee, said. “There’s actually a real process and a sign off and a forewarning that, by releasing those items, they become property, in this case, of the St. Louis County historical society.”

Bernard’s Vedder’s brother Richard was killed in Vietnam 1967. Decades later, Bernard and his wife decided to honor Richard by donating his war items to the St. Louis County Historical Society.

“It’s letters from his mother and Richard to his mom, and the flag that draped his casket, his dog tags,” Sheila Vedder, wife of Bernard said.

It started with a mix-up.

“I packed the stuff and I put in the wrong uniform,” Sheila said. “And it was just about 6 months ago I was teasing him. I wanted him to try on his uniform, and he says: ‘This isn’t my uniform. This is Richard’s.'”

After realizing what had happened, the couple reached out, but the problem was that, once handed over, the St. Louis County Historical Society legally owns all items within its collection.

That was back in September. Since then, the Vedder’s have asked that all of the items donated get returned.

“We’re still trying to get it back,” Sheila said. “We’ve had communication saying that they would return it, and they found most of it they said, but we still haven’t seen it.”

The Historical Society’s hope is to work with the couple to recover all items donated and have them returned as soon as possible.

“There were some complications, staff turnovers, different variables that make it an imperfect world that delayed a better response,” Hughes said. “I plan today to telephone them to be able to discuss this matter and, hopefully, we can resolve it.”

The St. Louis County Historical Society has over 50,000 donated items in its storage. Representatives say they’re currently working to get that space more organized and have recently brought on a new collections manager to help them do so.

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