RUGBY - Prairie Village Museum in Rugby was like a gem that just needed to be shined up and shown off when the Geographical Center Historical Society Board hired Cathy Jelsing as executive director last year.
Jelsing has brought skills in grant writing and marketing to the museum while moving the history-focused organization into the computer age, at least administratively. The museum now has a Facebook site and an office computer that will allow for electronic cataloging of artifacts.
Jelsing said the board's focus is both on attracting more visitors and on preserving the 47-year-old museum for generations to come.
Jill Schramm/MDN • Cathy Jelsing, executive director of the Prairie Village Museum in Rugby, sits on the grounds June 28. The museum has 23 historical buildings and six exhibit halls.
"They want this to be a good place, and they want it to go on far into the future. So we are going to invest the time and effort to make that happen," she said. "The way to keep it going is to increase our number of tourist visitors, to increase the number of local people who come here."
Prairie Village Museum has 23 historic buildings, six exhibition halls and a Great Northern caboose arranged around a quaint town square. The museum's collections include Native American artifacts, vintage pioneer clothing and household items, classic cars, farm machinery and taxidermy.
"The place is full of wonderful things," Jelsing said. "It's really kind of impressive."
It also requires a lot of maintenance. The museum's staff includes a grounds caretaker and summer assistants who help with various tasks.
Although the museum is open only from mid-May to mid-September, with a couple of additional weeks on each end of the season for school tours, Jelsing works in the off-season to generate grants and prepare for the next summer.
Jelsing had been serving on the historical society board when the previous manager retired so she knew what the job would entail. Having established her own freelance communications business, she initially didn't think she wanted to add another job with a workload that large and diverse.
Prairie Village Museum offers summer activities
RUGBY- Prairie Village Museum is offering all active-duty military personnel, including active Reserve and National Guard, and their families free admission to the museum through the 2012 Blue Star Museums.
Blue Star Museums is a collaboration of the National Endowment for the Arts, Blue Star Families, the Department of Defense, and more than 1,600 museums across America. MetLife Foundation, through Blue Star Families, provides leadership support.
Upcoming events at Prairie Village Museum include the North Dakota Governor's School Variety Show Tuesday at 3 p.m. The show features performing arts students from around the state.
Other events include:
- A marbles tourney and teaching event on July 19 from 5:30 to 8 p.m. Open to anyone age 4 or older, all competitors receive a free bag of marbles. Registration opens today.
- Pioneer Survival Camp, Aug. 7 to 10 and Aug. 12. Children ages 7 to 13 learn about pioneer life through crafts, stories, games, songs, cooking and more. Afternoon and morning sessions will be held. Registration opens July 19. Adult volunteers are welcome.
- 27th annual Village Fair, Aug. 12, 9 a.m. to 6 p.m., featuring jazz band Dakota Dixie, singer-guitarist Manuel Delgado and River Road family band. Demonstrations include bread baking, blacksmithing and skills demonstrated by survival camp participants. A pancake breakfast and other foods will be served.
For admission prices, registration details or other information about any of the events, visit the website at (prairievillagemuseum.com) or contact Prairie Village at 776-6414 or email@example.com.
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The board interviewed candidates when Jelsing was away on family matters. Upon her return, the board asked to interview her.
"They asked two questions and said, 'Do you want the job?' she recalled. "I took it because this is a really wonderful place. I want to help this community preserve it and make it better. It's really important that we preserve the history of our communities, and I wanted to be part of that."
She also took the job because of the encouragement of her husband, Terry, who has been curator for Plains Art Museum in Fargo and offered to advise her as needed.
Now in her second season, Jelsing said she's discovered the museum is a fun place to work.
"I love bringing people together and seeing them have a good time," she said. "Every day is a new challenge. Every day there's something different to do. It makes it hectic but it also makes it fun. The reward comes from visitors coming and enjoying themselves and the local people being appreciative."
Last year, the museum hosted a hobo event for children to teach them about the lifestyle. The children heard stories from an area resident who remembered the hoboes who used to pass through. They learned the hobo code and ate foil dinners that Jelsing prepared.
"All my Girl Scout skills came into play," Jelsing laughed.
The museum began an adoption program that allows groups to take responsibility for certain exhibits or buildings and help maintain and improve the properties.
"That was one of the things that I really wanted to do is get the community involved again," Jelsing said. "We are trying to generate new groups who are invested in the museum and want to spend some time here."
Her future goals include increasing the historic authenticity of the village and creating interpretative panels for buildings and key exhibits.
"I don't call myself a curator. I am learning," she said. She attended a workshop to gain insight into conservation of artifacts and obtained a State Historical Society grant for $10,000 to assess the exhibit collection so the museum can begin strategically planning for its future.
Prairie Village Museum's collections span the 1880s through the present, with an emphasis on the turn of the century through the 1950s.
"People are really impressed just with the size of the collection," Jelsing said. "Kids love coming out here. It's because we don't put a lot of restrictions on people. There's freedom here to walk around."
Jelsing's appreciation for local history developed while working on a centennial project for the Devils Lake Daily Journal. Her writing career began as a stringer for the Daily Journal in 1978. She continued in the newspaper industry as a reporter, editor, film and theater critic and columnist. After 13 years at The Forum in Fargo, she transitioned into public relations.
In 2001, she became grants writer/manager for Trollwood Performing Arts School in Fargo. She later became senior feature writer for North Dakota State University.
She started CJ Communications after she and her husband moved to the farmstead near Rugby that his family had homesteaded more than 100 years ago. A native of southern Minnesota, Jelsing's roots have become firmly entrenched in the North Dakota soil.
"I just think the state is a special place to be and has a great history," she said.