Thursday, November 29, 2012

David Riehle is a Man to Know About

This morning I encountered a very special story that I think you should know about.
by Charlie Leck

This morning, I read a really interesting and impressive story in one of my favorite news rags, Politics in Minnesota (PIM). I started subscribing to this news weekly about a year ago. With the printed paper, I also get regular and extensive email notifications about what’s happening on our state’s political scene.

This morning, in that little newspaper, I really struck gold with a remarkable piece of writing about an extraordinary man. The account bore the title: The Workingman’s Tale. I wish I could provide a link, but PIM is a closely held publication and you need to be a subscriber to peruse its articles. I’ll summarize the piece for you; and if you want to read the entire thing, send me an email with your address and I’ll mail it to you. This is too good a story to be kept in such a small circle of subscribers and I urge PIM and Capitol Life to have it published more widely.

The author of the story is Kevin Featherly. The subject is David Riehle. Mr. Riehle, you are going to find out, is a generally fantastic and unusual man of great character and mind. Featherly is an award-winning free lance writer who contributes regularly to PIM. I wasn’t very far into Mr. Featherly’s wonderful story when I realized I was dealing here with a very talented writer and his amazing subject.

David Riehle
Mr. Riehle proudly refers to himself as a socialist. Perhaps he is; however, he is so much, much more and I (without ever having met him) really like him.

At the age of 66, this man, David Riehle, is working on a documentary (Who Built Our Capitol?) on the construction of the Minnesota State Capitol building in St. Paul. The film will be produced by the University of Minnesota’s Labor Education Service. The concentration of the documentary is on one of the workers who helped construct the amazing building. David Riehle is the principle snoop behind the scenes.

Riehle is a retired locomotive engineer and a member in good-standing of the United Transportation Union (Local 650). He calls his former work on the railroad a hobby. His unpaid work as a historian, he says, is his job. As these things often happen, he is married to a union activist. His wife, Gladys McKenzie is retired from her work with the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees. The couple proudly proclaims that they are union people.

Here we must introduce Cass Gilbert, the extremely well-known architect who designed the Minnesota State Capitol Building. It was Gilbert’s insistence that this building had to be built of Georgia marble, and not Minnesota granite, that becomes the crux of the story that Kevin Featherly tells. Along with a cameraman, David Riehle traveled on down to Georgia to find the marble quarry. Featherly details the search and the extraordinary manner in which Riehle found the site (using the common sense of a railroad man).

Why is Riehle so interested in this story? Because it is the story of construction. And building construction is done by human beings.

“I want people to know,” Riehle told Featherly, “that everything they see has been built by human labor.”

He wants ordinary people to understand the story of organized labor. In understanding labor’s past struggles, Riehle hopes, they may also understand the need to rebuild workers’ rights.

This ex-railroad man has published a surprising number of historical articles about the labor movement. He is a member of the St. Paul Heritage Preservation Commission. He’s also a volunteer labor history tour guide for Friends of the St. Paul Library.

For his work with the University’s Labor Education Service (LES), he accepts no pay.

I’m guessing that there is no man alive who knows and understands the history of the labor movement in Minnesota better than David Riehle. As I read through the accounts and listings of the astonishing amounts of writing and reports on the subject that he has produced, I became dizzy thinking about how productive one man could be.

Barb Kucera, the LES director, spoke to Featherly about Riehle’s productiveness:

“He has a body of work that way exceeds what academics – people who do this work as their full-time job – are doing. He has done amazing work.”

Peter Rachleff, a history professor at Macalester College, who thinks Riehle is a great historian, told Featherly about the kind of history David Riehle explores:

“There is a tremendous history that we do not know, that is not taught in the schools and that is not recognized in mass circulation films or publications. We can never truly understand where we stand today without exploring that great history.”

There you have it! One of the leading historians in Minnesota, if not in the nation, who graduated from White Bear High School and went on to work as a union man and railroad locomotive engineer, is the remarkable David Riehle. I’m dad-gum impressed – and I mean it!

Thanks, Kevin Featherly, for your remarkable story. And, to Peter Bartz-Gallagher for a brilliant photograph of Mr. Riehle!

Why not become a follower?
If you read my blog regularly, why not become a follower? All you have to do is click in the upper right hand corner and establish a simple means of communication. Then you'll be informed every time a new blog is posted here. If all that's confusing, here's Google's explanation of how to do it! If you don’t want to post comments on the blog, but would like to communicate with me about it, send me an email if you’d like.

No comments:

Post a Comment