History Is: Memberships keep museum’s doors open, history alive

Published 12:00 am Saturday, November 13, 2004

By Bev Jackson

It’s membership time again for the Freeborn County Historical Museum.

And in today’s world of &uot;bargains&uot; and &uot;giveaways&uot; we are often asked, “What do I get for my annual membership?&uot; Our answer includes the following: “Free admission to the museum, library, and village; reduced prices for special events; a quarterly newsletter; and the knowledge that your donation helps to preserve the history of Freeborn County and to keep the museum doors open. That is a bargain.”

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But there is so much more to it than that.

From the beginning of immigrant settlement in Freeborn County, there has been an association that honored the people who struggled to survive those first winters and stayed on to build our communities. It was about 60 years ago that a group of area historians began collecting items for a future museum, 40 years ago that the museum building was constructed, and almost 20 years ago that the volunteer organization decided to hire a director so the artifact and archival collections could be available to the public on a regular basis.

The entire process has been evolutionary, with each step building on the previous one. Interestingly enough, learning and respect for our heritage has been one of the most significant aspects of the growth, and that has never changed. Whether the learning is about family life, agriculture, religious and social organizations, businesses, transportation, or the multitude of other topics, we know that people are still people.

While our lives may change, we still have basically the same needs. I believe that is one of the most valuable lessons that we can teach our young visitors.

In early October, Albert Lea High School humanities students became history teachers for area fifth-graders during our Discover History Program in the museum and village. The 11th-graders did extensive research, prepared lesson plans, and as teams, taught what they had learned to the youngsters. I watched as these kids (both age groups) learned how to live without electricity and on almost non-existent budgets. Then, the students found out how good life can be when you work with your head, your hands, and your heart. and you are responsible for your own welfare.

It’s a different story than we know today,

The thank you notes that we received from the fifth-graders gave us a good idea of what they learned and why it is so important to have the museum, library, and village available to everyone. This is what your membership is really all about.

&uot;Thank you for letting us visit on ‘Discover History’ day. I learned how people lived a long time ago. I also learned that Albert Lea was named after Colonel Albert Lea and learned that people traded food to a person to get something they need.&uot; Jacob

“I learned that as an Indian, if you didn’t catch food, you didn’t get to eat.&uot; Jeff

“I learned how to make a rug and that they had to wash clothes from a board. I liked how good the students were to us. They were nice.&uot; Nicole

“I enjoyed planting seeds. Now, I know what it was like when people had to plant seeds without tractors.&uot; Mason

“The food the Norwegians ate was great.&uot; Macy

&uot;I learned how the Naeve hospital got its name. I learned how the mill worked. Another thing I learned is that you could take a bath at the barber.&uot; Anthony

“I learned that immigrants had to pass several tests to get into America. If they didn’t, they had to go back to where they came from.&uot; Kimberly

“I learned that they used a sling to move hay from place to place. That was the coolest thing about the whole thing. I would love to see that again.&uot; Conrad

“I hope I can come back to learn some more of what they did in the olden days.&uot; Desi

&uot;I have learned how to make rugs out of old clothes.&uot; Brady

“I learned how to make butter and how to barter. I liked the pancakes that we made.” Joe

&uot;I learned that our town was named after some guy named Colonel Albert Lea. Thank you.&uot; Anthony

I want to say “Thank you, too.” We can get so wrapped up in planning and fund raising and designing and repairing and painting and letter writing and researching and mailings, that we almost forget why we are here.

You are the reason &045; Anthony, Joe, Brady, Desi, Kimberly, all of you. You are the future of the museum. Our memberships keep the doors open so you will all know who you are and where you come from.

If you are interested in joining the Freeborn County Historical Museum, please call 373-8003. Annual household memberships range from $25 to $1,000, with several levels of giving. Your gift to the museum brings you benefits and it ensures that the next generation will continue to learn about their heritage.

It’s a membership that gives, and gives, and gives.

(Bev Jackson is the executive director of the Freeborn County Historical Museum.)