John Runk’s Film clips of Stillwater show everyday life

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John Runk’s Film clips of Stillwater show everyday life

John Runk shot his picture camera with him everywhere to catch everyday life in Stillwater following World War II, making what’s been described as a “scrapbook in film” of his hometown.

From 1947 to 1954, he filmed celebrations in downtown parks, and ice-cutting around the St. Croix River, baseball matches and day-to-day activities like young folks leaping off diving boards.

Many decades before, the Washington County Historical Society took elements from 48 of Runk’s film reels to make a video named “An Ode to Stillwater: The John Runk Films” The 30-minute video will be displayed at 7:30 p.m. Saturday on the front yard of the Warden’s House Museum, 602 N. Main St., Stillwater.

“He was hoping to generate a promotional item to Stillwater, there’s no question about it,” explained Brent Peterson, the historical society’s executive manager. Runk wanted to demonstrate insight into ordinary life, he explained.

When Runk died in 1964, he left behind decades of still photography, too — a massive collection spanning more than a century. He gathered photos and took them, often borrowing a drawback to create two prints, one for himself and the other for the lender. As a commercial photographer, he advertised his motto –“Square Deal”– on the awning of the Stillwater studio.

“He was quite the personality, he was unique. He saved pictures up until he died,” Peterson explained. “He was always kind of a loner. He’d walk around with his camera equipment,” which he hauled in a baby buggy.

John Runk, shown in 1936.

Over 4,000 pictures that Runk gathered and gathered are stored in the Minnesota Historical Society, maybe the most significant collection by a single person in the nation, Peterson explained.

Once Runk bought his film camera, he began filming up and down the St. Croix Valley, and then in St. Paul and Minneapolis. Some of the most captivating movies show the Minnesota State Fair, such as a plane crash that killed teen wing walker Kitty Middleton and her pilot.

He was in downtown Minneapolis on the afternoon in June 1954 if the trolleys stopped running for good. Additionally, there is footage of a Stillwater Loggers baseball game against St. Paul Park.

In 2008, Runk’s grandnephew discovered the film collection collecting dust in a cellar and contributed it to the ancient culture, which invested $2,700 moving it to electronic use. Peterson noted that it is uncommon to get a resident to document his community to the extent found from Runk’s work.

“He never married, but he wed the neighborhood and it shows in his aspect of his work,” Peterson explained. “He kept going since he understood his work was significant.”

The video being shown in Stillwater this week doesn’t include movies taken out of the town, but those can be found on a DVD the historical society sells for about $ 15 to finance preservation efforts. Saturday’s series is absolutely free but Peterson said donations will be accepted. To find out more, contact the Warden’s House Museum in 651-439-5956 or

Washington County Historical Society
The girls, photographed by John Runk, were casting their first-ever votes from the November election of 1920. They had been given the right to vote by the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.