Douglas County Historical Society
1219 Nokomis St
Alexandria, MN 56308
Phone: 320-762-0382

Timeless Topics – Fall 2010

It’s (Still) About You and it’s About Time

Timeless Topics Fall 2010

Timing is everything. While spending the past several months re-evaluating and researching the five year vision and plan to raise funds to build a new history center the word “sustainability” continued to crop up. We have concluded that it’s just not the right time to build a new history center. Repeated time and again were the phrases, “It’s one thing to raise the funds to build a building. It’s another story to keep our Historical Society feasibly sound while sustaining another “building” to preserve history. Is a new history center necessary? Why do we need a new building when many don’t realize we have an old one? How will we maintain the existing historic house, its grounds and parking lot?”

Many questions came into the conversation. “Do you currently have enough revenue to sustain a $2.5M building? How will you continue to staff it, operate it in the capacity that is needed to produce revenue, heat it, light it? How will you maintain the new building and grounds?” We quickly realized it was time to go back to the drawing board, back to the fundamentals of the Douglas County Historical Society, study our mission, and remember how we got here in the first place.

To keep it simple, the fundamentals of the Historical Society are “listed” in our mission: to discover, preserve and disseminate the history of Douglas County and its people. We house, preserve and provide resources, i.e. documents, records, photographs, collections. We have an excellent corps of volunteers willing to share their expertise in providing help to visitors. Our staff is knowledgeable and well trained in providing the services needed and asked for. We share history programs in the community and partner with other non-profit entities in the community to bring history alive and enhance each other. We host special events which help raise funds to share Douglas County history, sustain our membership and our funds.

Anyone who utilizes our Society will discover our local history and discover the value of preserving history for future generations. Basic fundamentals. Next, how did we get here, to this house, to this place? Another basic fundamental: Through hard work and determination, the house was preserved when it was
gifted to the Historical Society. Today, everything within the walls of the house is a gift given to the organization. These gifts are referred to as accessions. Gift-giving has made the difference in our Society.

In addition to accession items, other ways of giving that have made a difference are the endowment gifts and estate gifts presented to the organization thus sustaining the Society through the years. Those gifts,
beginning in the mid-1980s, have been critical in fulfilling our mission, and have provided perpetual funds for preservation and maintenance needs of the historic Knute Nelson house. They have made the difference. Grant awards throughout the years have also provided funds for preservation projects and maintaining the house, including replacing windows and other major renovations. Grant awards have provided technical assistance and for funding book projects and assorted program efforts.

Gifts have sustained us. The land that we were planning to build on was a gift given to us by Knute Nelson Foundation. And, in a broader sense, back to the fundamentals, the Historical Society is now a
gift to this community.

In today’s thinking, we believe that in order to sustain our Society, it is time to give back to the community through the gifts that have been given us. That being said, our duty continues to not only be preserving history, (we are about the past after all), but to provide an outlet (and document) what is happening today.
We need to optimize our resources, our programs, our facility. We need to enhance our existing historic house with something that the entire community can enjoy, as a gift.

The power of shared vision, of giving back to the community, and thinking outside the box began as conversation shifted from building a history center to other uses for the 1.5 acres given the Society. We soon “landed” on a new idea.

We have now started to formulate “Plan B”which is the planting of a Heritage Garden on the land directly
south of Knute’s house. Knute’s land, after all, was a 120 acre farm homestead. We could incorporate heirloom seeds given by members, historical perennials, given by members. We can make it a “history” learning garden for children and adults. We can design a walking path, with family stepping stones, given by members, leading to the historic house filled with more information. We can design a garden fashioned after Noonan’s “Little Bit of Heaven” with gifts of park benches and picnic tables, and trees, given by members. The ideas are endless, exciting and manageable. It will be YOUR garden and it will be a gift to this community. We will always need funds to maintain and sustain this Historical Society. As we formulate our heritage garden I encourage anyone who is interested in the planning and design process to give me a call. It is our intention to form a committee this fall, including the establishment of the garden fund, selling “stepping stones” to form a path through the garden and up to the front porch of the Historical Society. (The south parking lot, which is in dire need of resurfacing, will also be redesigned and completed, allowing for the garden to be adjacent to the house.) “Naming rights” of the garden and parts of the garden, depending on donor gifts are yet to be discussed, but will be part of the plan.

Ultimately, the garden will be an educational/interpretive piece in telling the history of Douglas County, and an enhancement to our jewel, Knute’s Historic residence.

So now is the time to move in a new direction with Plan B. It is very exciting. It’s still about time and it’s still about YOU. If you are interested in the planning stages and subsequent volunteering on the Heritage Garden, please give me a call at 762-0382.

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