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Historical Society looks to the future

Amy Nelson took over as interim director of the Goodhue County Historical Society in August. Since then she has been working to set the groundwork for the organization’s financial stability. (Republican Eagle photo by Michael Brun)

Amy Nelson’s background is in education, not history.

“It’s always something I’ve enjoyed, and I love learning more about it,” she said. “But I am no expert.”

Although Nelson’s experience may not have made her the obvious choice for interim director of the Goodhue County Historical Society, she has made an impact since accepting the position in August, board members said.

With the organization’s finances now in the black after the departure of two full-time staff, Nelson said her goals are to increase efficiency and implement some changes at the Goodhue County History Center.

“We’re going to have to do some housecleaning over the next month,” Nelson said, including tossing old furniture, paint cans and other office supplies that have built up over the years.

“We had grant documents dating back to 1966,” she said. “You don’t need that.”

So far Nelson has reduced the organization’s files to two main cabinets, and is starting to move day-to-day tasks to electronic databases and calendars.

“A lot of the stuff you do in business for efficiency sake,” she said.

As former provost of Minnesota State College-Southeast Technical and chief academic officer for Northwest Technical Institute, Nelson said she learned a thing or two about running an effective organization — which is exactly what the Historical Society Board was looking for.

“She’s helping us get the business end organized,” Board Chair Roseanne Grosso said, adding that the Historical Society is still in “transition mode” following the resignation of long-time Director Char Henn in July.

Prior to joining as interim director, Nelson said her experience with the Historical Society was fairly limited. That changed after she started working with Grosso on silica mining issues as a volunteer for local activist group Save the Bluffs.

Nelson’s husband, Keith Fossen, also serves on the Historical Society Board.

Following an interview with the board’s personnel committee about the organization’s needs, Nelson said she recognized “they needed help establishing things.”

Part of that includes developing a new fiscal reporting system to make financial reports easier to understand and clearer when it comes to achieving specific goals.

“It’s really just trying to help the board make good decisions going forward,” Nelson said.

Nelson will serve as interim director through the end of the year while the board continues developing the job description for a full-time director position, Grosso said.

Chartered in 1869, the Goodhue County Historical Society holds the distinction of being the oldest such organization in Minnesota. The society has resided at the former Baptist Old People’s Home on Oak Street since 1969, according to its website.

The Historical Society has been in a state of flux in recent months. Along with dropping to two full-time employees, the organization has been in talks with the city of Red Wing and Goodhue County Board to consider moving the History Center closer to the downtown historic district.

Discussion of relocating to the Goodhue County Citizens Building stalled at a County Board meeting Oct. 1.

In the meantime, Nelson said the society is looking at remodeling a downstairs meeting room at the History Center to rent it out for events.

She also added that the Historical Society recently updated its website, and will consider delivering more copies of its newsletter electronically to cut expenses.

Beyond cost savings and efficiencies, Nelson said that one of the most important ways to put the Goodhue County Historical Society on solid fiscal ground is to grow community involvement. That means attracting volunteers, as well as building on events like the Hangar Dance and an upcoming musical performance in November.

“We’re going to have to be creative moving forward,” she said.

Michael Brun

Michael Brun joined RiverTown Multimedia at the Red Wing Republican Eagle in March 2013, covering county government, health and local events.  He is a graduate of the University of Wisconsin-River Falls journalism program.

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