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Editorial: Henn keeps history well

There are lots of catchy phrases about why history is important:

•You don’t know where you’re going until you know where you’ve been.

•Those who don't know history are doomed to repeat it.

•If you don’t know history, then you don’t know anything.

Char Henn of Red Wing probably knows more about Goodhue County — the events, cultures and geography that have shaped it — than just about anybody else. That includes the editors of the various local newspapers that report on their individual communities as well as county issues every week. Newspapers focus on current events, of course, but their staff members know that the “here and now” is based on what happened “back then.”

The Goodhue County Editorial Association comprising the Cannon Falls Beacon, Kenyon Leader, News Record of Zumbrota and Red Wing Republican Eagle honored Henn this month for her years as the keeper of county history.

Henn has been a resource for everybody who contacted her — newspaper reporters, professional researchers, authors and grade-school students completing homework — since 1991. She has treated their enquiries with respect, sharing her love of history with anyone and everyone.

Henn dedicated herself and her staff to preserving, cataloging, studying and verifying Goodhue County’s stories.

Through her professionalism, she demonstrated that knowledge alone isn’t remarkable. It’s what you do with it that counts. She continues to give talks about local history, edit manuscripts and help the average citizen understand his or her past.

A graduate of Ellsworth High School, she earned a master’s degree from Northern Illinois University in 1991 and soon became the Goodhue County Historical Society archivist. She advanced to curator, serving from 1993-1999 until she was asked to step in as interim director. The board made the post formal in 2000. She served until summer of 2013. That’s when she and current board parted ways.

During her tenure, the museum and its strong volunteer corps launched the township exhibit series. The ghost town signs went up across the county. She brought high-profile exhibits of statewide and national interest to Goodhue County, including notable Smithsonian programs.

Henn also worked closely with the eight community historical organizations and the growing list of individual museums in the county.

Some people might have resisted their creation and growth, fearing that these institutions threatened the county museum — the primary guardian of local history. Henn not only embraced them, she supported them and championed their niche contributions to preserving our past.

Henn has touched all 48,000 Goodhue County residents’ lives in many ways, even if they don’t know it. She is the 2013 Goodhue County Citizen of the Year.