Foundation focuses on local immigrant history

13Colonies copyStarting with the settlement of Germans and Poles in the late 1800’s and extending to Hmong, Hispanic, Vietnamese, Filipino and other settlers through the 1990’s, a new nonprofit organization in southwest Missouri has dedicated itself to preserving its vibrant immigrant history. The Waldensian Foundation, an education and cultural organization, collects papers, photographs and digital media for preservation to make them available for research and education.

The small Missouri town of Monett, with the motto “Pride & Progress” is home to the Waldensian Foundation, which centers on the history of Barry County and Lawrence County. The term “Waldensian” generally refers to North and Western Europeans.

Mark McMeley, Waldensian historian and foundation president, told The Monett-Times that while personal papers, photographs and documents seldom have market value, the aggregate of these materials carry great significance to historians and others interested in the region’s history.

“Monett and Barry and Lawrence counties have a particularly rich heritage of foreign immigration, from the Germans, Poles, Italians, Swedes and others who settled the area in the 1800s to Hispanic, Somalis, Southeast Asians and others who have arrived in the past 20 or 30 years,” McMeley said.

With a new archive, the foundation works with a library at Missouri State University where materials are housed in a special collections and archive unit. The site offers security, technical expertise and environmental controls to ensure their care and availability for future generations.

Among the first donations to the archive collection, which formally kicked off in October, were a 1901 travel journal from a Waldensian immigrant, a 1917 ledger of money orders at a local post office and recent photographs of celebrations at the Hmong Community Center in Fairview, among other materials.

“It is very important to preserve our documents as the Hmong people,” Bouayang Vang, president of the Southwest Missouri Hmong Association, told the local paper. The Hmong population includes an ethnic group from the mountainous regions of China, Vietnam, Laos and Thailand “When the older generation is gone, people often think their papers are no longer important. But, the Waldensian collection will keep those documents in the university, and then future generations of all ethnicities can see who the Hmong are and where they came from.”