ST. PAUL, Minn. – As one of their last official duties, staff members for Paul Wellstone are quietly packing photographs, speeches and other records of his 12 years in office to fulfill one of the late senator's wishes.
Years ago, Wellstone decided that when his Senate career ended, his official papers would be donated to the Minnesota Historical Society so researchers and citizens could review his work.
But nobody expected his career to end with his abrupt death Oct. 25 in a plane crash that also killed his wife, their daughter and five others.
Now, for the past two weeks, Wellstone's staff has somberly carried out his wishes before the Senate office in Washington must be vacated by mid-December.
"He worked for the state of Minnesota, loved the state of Minnesota, and it's only appropriate that the things that were collected here over 12 years be returned to the state,'' said Allison Dobson, Wellstone's spokeswoman.
"Our function here is that things be archived properly and that Paul's legacy is preserved.''
For decades, the state historical society has been the prime repository for the speeches, letters and work papers of Minnesota's lawmakers, including those of Hubert Humphrey, Walter Mondale, Dave Durenberger and Rod Grams.
An estimated 300 boxes of Wellstone material is expected to arrive in St. Paul.
Craig Wright, curator of manuscripts for the Minnesota Historical Society, has heard from Wellstone's staff that the senator's passion for veterans' issues can be traced, in part, to "a specific poem that someone sent to him early in his first term, and it really had an impact on him and prompted some of his interest and activity in that area.''
"That's a more personal level than we usually get,'' Wright said. "Usually, there's a paper trail and official business. But with Senator Wellstone, people approached him, he took it to heart and tried to create legislation to respond to that particular issue.''
Wellstone's office was packed with personal items that reflected his passions: images of Humphrey, Eleanor Roosevelt and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.; hundreds of books; dozens of family photos; artwork from Minnesota tribes and immigrant communities.
State archivists must decide which items will be preserved, which means making educated guesses of what future researchers will find significant.
"Items that we don't think are going to be important in 50 years are weeded out at the front end,'' Wright said.
Wellstone's papers will become public in stages. The first items available will be those already in the public eye — speeches, photographs, press releases, campaign commercials and newspaper articles. Other items, such as internal memos, personal schedules and private letters, will be made public later.