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‘It’s a good community thing’

Volunteers repair lights display after it’s vandalized 2nd year in a row

Vandals have reportedly damaged the Christmas exhibit at the Freeborn County Historical Museum, Library & Village once again this year.

However, volunteers are working to make sure that the museum’s light show still goes on.

More than two dozen lights were reported broken — bulbs were removed and placed on backwards, causing them not to light. Wires were reportedly cut, and a three-way adaptor was stolen. The damage has since been repaired.

The damage occurred after volunteers Richard Nelson, Dave Mullenbach, Mike Levisen, Mark Light, Tom Knudtson, Gary Thofson and Dean Johnson set up the display.

Museum Executive Director Kim Nelson estimated that $5,000 in donations helps fund Christmas displays.

“We like to just put the lights out and let the community enjoy it,” she said. “They can drive by and see the lights within the village.”

The damage this year is nothing new at the museum. About 100 bulbs were reported stolen from its Christmas display in 2015.

Mullenbach compared the vandalism to damage reported earlier this month in Graceland Cemetery.

“It’s kinda like the cemetery thing, where they went out there, and whoever did that destroyed things in our community, and it’s the same way here,” he said. “The time we spent putting them up and all of that stuff and then you come and the bulbs are gone and broken. That’s really disgusting.”

Mullenbach said a suspect has not been identified.

“I’m not blaming anybody, but it’s just sad that a few people out of the community take the enjoyment out of somebody’s life to come and look at that, Christmas lights,” he said.

Mullenbach said Christmas decorations have had to be scaled back at the museum due to the time it takes to set up, but he still enjoys volunteering to help the community.

“It is a good community thing when you put the lights up,” he said. “When you put a lot of lights up, you can just stand here and watch the people drive through here at night, showing their kids.”

Mullenbach enjoys the display.

“It’s just a service to the public that they can come and enjoy Christmas lights, I think, and it makes you feel good if somebody does come and look at them,” he said.

Nelson credited the success of the display and of the museum to its volunteers, adding that volunteers donate 150 hours a week and 8,000 hours a year to the museum.

“We do well because we have a great volunteer base,” she said. “Over 150 times people come on average to this museum and help in a month … a lot of volunteers make this place go.”

Mullenbach — who has volunteered at the museum for years  — is a member of the Kiwanis club and was a volunteer for more than 30 years at Albert Lea Township Fire Department.

He said volunteering at the museum is important to him.

“It’s just something in your heart that you want to do,” Mullenbach said.

About Sam Wilmes

Sam Wilmes covers crime, courts and government for the Albert Lea Tribune.

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