‘Behind the scenes’ figure in Duluth rail museum dies

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Marillyn Persch
DULUTH, Minn. – Marillyn Persch, a key behind the scenes figure in the establishment of the Lake Superior Railroad Museum, died March 15 in South Range, Wis., at age 95. Persch was a 30-year employee of the Duluth, Missabe & Iron Range Railway, serving for many years as executive secretary to DM&IR Vice President and General Manager Donald B. Shank.

In the late 1960s and early 1970s, Shank had the vision to save artifacts and equipment for a future rail museum in Duluth. His vision came to fruition in 1973 when the Lake Superior Museum of Transportation & Industry (now Lake Superior Railroad Museum) was established in the former Duluth Union Depot. But while Shank won accolades for his vision, Persch carried many of his ideas out in her role as his assistant. When the Duluth Union Depot was threatened with demolition after it closed in 1969, Shank and others prevailed in preserving the building as a center of arts, culture and history.

“We are very fortunate for all the leaders who have come before us and have gifted the Museum with their time, talent and treasure. Marillyn was one of the first to see what this effort of saving railroad history and preserving its stories through artifacts (and dishes) would mean to future generations,” LSRM Executive Director Ken Buehler said. “She had an advantage over many of us because she worked for Mr. Shank. But Don was blessed to have her carry his dreams to a place where vision meets reality.”

Persch was a leader in the National Association of Railway Business Women, and was the driving force behind building a China Car Exhibit at LSRM. Persch lead the effort to collect dining car china from the nation’s railroads, preserving it in garages, attics, and basements for years because Shank said there would be a railroad museum in Duluth someday where it could be displayed.

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