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Heckman enters the local history books

Dustin Heckman will leave his executive director post at the Goodhue County Historical Society in February 2018. Sarah Hansen / RiverTown Multimedia1 / 2
Roger Hand (left), Goodhue County Historical Society Board Chair Dennis Schultz, outgoing GCHS Executive Director Dustin Heckman pose in the History Center. Sarah Hansen / RiverTown Multimedia2 / 2

When Dustin Heckman became executive director for the Goodhue County Historical Society on March 31, 2014, the organization was just about to publish "The Sea Wing Disaster."

Heckman had to jump in with both feet and quickly learn the boat's history in which one fateful trip to Lake City left 98 passengers dead in the water on July 13, 1890.

When Heckman came aboard four years ago, GCHS wasn't much better off, members say.

"We were really a floundering organization at that point," said Roger Hand, head of the personnel committee. "The board was fighting with the idea that we might even have to close our doors."

But after nearly four years working to build programs and improve engagement with the museum, board members say Heckman deserves a lot of credit for righting the ship.

Today GCHS is financially stable and primed for the future and Heckman is ready to move on to a new future as well. He has accepted a new position as coordinator for the Minnesota Alliance of Local History Museums and his last day at GCHS will be Feb. 21, 2018.

Heckman has served on the Alliance board for six years. He said he's looking forward to his new role and supporting history projects and organizations all across the state. Because it's work he can do remotely, he and his family will remain in Red Wing for now and he'll stay involved with the 1860s vintage baseball team he started at the museum. He will likely continue to be a resource for the future director as well while they get established.

During his time at GCHS, Heckman has focused on building programming and improving communications. He also helped strengthen the off-site presence of GCHS by tabling at First Thursday Fun Fest in Cannon Falls, leading walking tours of downtown Red Wing and restarting the history boat cruises.

Hand said that the search committee is planning to act quickly to find a new director. A job description and offer placements will be finalized this week.

Going forward, members of the GCHS board said they are concerned with maintaining financial stability, addressing space issues, becoming a full museum campus by repurposing the Friedrich Center and planning sesquicentennial celebrations for Red Wing.

"We're very glad that Dustin has decided to find his dream job and move on and at the same time we're sad to see him go because of all the things he's done for us in the past," Hand said. "It's going to be interesting to see if we can fill his shoes with a new director. We're hoping we can get one just as good and just as active and connected to the community."