Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Explorer of Lake Country's Forgotten Past

Julie Jo Larson Explorer of Lake Country's Forgotten Past

What is past is prologue 

Julie Jo Larson likes to delve into Lake Country’s rich history, uncovering missing pieces and solving mysteries. For her there is a sense of wonder looking at the forgotten past.

With inquisitiveness, adventurous spirit and tenacity, Julie Jo united her MsStorians sisters, Yvonne Doust, Vicki Foss and Leigh Melby once a week to adventure into Lake Country’s historical mysteries. Julie Jo’s mantra: we can’t know where we are going until we know where we’ve been.

Julie Jo has recorded several of the MsStorians’s adventures in the Lake Country Journal. They have explored the hidden tunnels of Brainerd’s downtown, toured one of Brainerd’s oldest bell towers, Last Turn Saloon and local cemeteries. Each woman brings strength to the group: Julie Jo takes copious notes, Vicki takes photographs while life-long residents Yvonne and Leigh fill in the missing links and spaces needing research.

Julie Jo Larson is a permanent part time advisor for TRIO at Central Lakes College. TRIO, a federally funded program, provides student support. That same program supported Julie when she enrolled at CLC full time in 2010 transferring to St. Scholastica and graduating in 2013 with a BA in social work.

Julie Jo began writing in earnest in 2011 when she entered a non-fiction writing contest placing second. She has submitted fiction and non-fiction pieces to Crossing Arts events, and Chicken Soup for the Soul. Most of her writing has been for Lake Country Journal. She’s grateful that the Brainerd area has a strong writing community and belongs to Brainerd Writers Alliance. Past events and people’s stories fuel her writing inspiration. One of the obstacles Julie Jo faces when writing historical pieces is that photos taken before 1900 are difficult to reproduce for clarity.

When not writing, one of Julie Jo’s hobbies is mining for amethyst in Thunder Bay, Ontario. Over the years she has made seven trips to the Amethyst Mine. It’s all part of her fascination with all the elements of nature, old abandoned buildings and cemeteries. She will tell you it’s not a morbid fascination but historical in nature. It’s a way to learn volumes about people, places and events.

The MsStorian’s adventures recently led to the discovery of grave sites in the Black Cemetery in Wealthwood Township near rural Aiken. There two Civil War Colored Infantrymen Veterans and 10 others, including men, women and several children were buried, now a part of Lake Country‘s forgotten past. Only Sergeant Joseph Henry’s headstone remains.
Ten months after their discovery, this little cemetery and the black community that was part of it have stolen a piece of Julie Jo’s heart. Currently she is working with the descendants to have the cemetery placed on the National Historic Registry. It will be a long process but worth the time and research to give them the recognition they deserve.

Julie Jo is a story catcher, freelance writer, and researcher who can be contacted at

written by Sue Ready for Lake Area Living Magazine 


  1. Thank you for sharing this with us, Sue. What an interesting project, to team with sisters to explore forgotten historical places.