Archived Story

Historical society lands new executive director

Published 1:37pm Monday, November 17, 2008

Dustin Heckman knows how important it is to preserve history.

“If we don’t know where we came from,” he said, “how do we know where we’re going?”

“People say we are doomed to repeat our own mistakes if we don’t remember what we did before,” Heckman said.

The former Martin County Historical Society curator is the new executive director of the Mower County Historical Society.

Heckman is a historian, who respects history at its origins.

“The origins of America with the Revolution to form a Democracy and then not having to change our Constitution in over 200 years is one unique thing,” he said. “If we can incorporate local history with that and the rich state history we have in Minnesota and preserve all that at the local level, we can look at how to connect the dots from every county in Minnesota to create the whole historical picture.”

Heckman fills the void created when Kelly Olson resigned the job to accept a position with Dakota County government at Hastings this summer.

A native of Truman in Martin County and lived in the county for most of his life thus far except for attending college elsewhere.

He attended Bemidji State University for two years and earned a bachelor’s degree in history at Minnesota State University, Mankato.

“Originally, I wanted to be an academic and getting a Ph.D.. and then working at a college,” Heckman said.

Instead, he returned to the private sector.

Heckman had completed an internship for the Beltrami County Historical Society in Bemidji. “I worked with artifacts, I wrote for the newsletter and did a little exhibit design,” he said.

After graduating Minnesota State University, Heckman went to the Martin County Historical Society as curator of their museum at Fairmont.

His father is a grain elevator employee. His mother works as a Title I aide at a Fairmont elementary school.

He has a brother and a sister.

“Where I grew up (Truman), most of us played two or three sports and you were also in the books,” he said of his secondary education background. “There were 45 students in my graduating class. Twenty-five or 30 of us had a GPAs of 3.3 or higher.”

His favorite subject in high school: American history.

“My area of interest was Colonial America up to the American Revolution,” he said. “I studied a lot about the Colonies and the religions of the New England area at that time.”

However, Heckman took a circuitous route to studying history in college.

“When I left home for college, my original intent was to be an aquatic biologist,” he recalled. “By the time I made orientation I wanted to be a science teacher. By the time I made it through my first semester, I changed my major to history.”

Also influencing his college and career choice was his great-grandfather, Harry Grant, an amateur historian. “He always told family history stories and I think that’s where my interest came from,” Heckman said.

Only three weeks into his new job, Heckman already has plans to involve students in the MCHS.

The Historical Center at the Mower County Fairgrounds is both a center of research and a historical attraction with many buildings, containing exhibits and artifacts chronicling Mower County history.

Heckman wants to involve both children and teens in more MCHS activities and to recruit a “younger generation” of volunteers and MCHS board members.

“When I got the job, the MCHS board said ‘We’re a baby going through crawling stages before walking’,” he said. “I want to get them to the next stage from walking to running.”

Another goal is to continue the emphasis on recruiting business partners for financial and other support.

“It’s a personal goal of mine to get business partners more involved,” he said. “I really think the best way to keep the Historical Society growing is to get younger generations involved and show them why it’s important to preserve history.”

Heckman plans to make himself available to people and to be a part of Austin community life.

Heckman has plans, goals and ideas to grow in his new job.

He also has common sense.

“One of the biggest things I want to push across to the community is the Mower County Historical Society is everybody’s historical society. Not just the staff or the members. It’s everybody’s in Mower County and they should really invest in it,” he said.

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