Historical Society unveils five-year strategic plan

Published 7:18 am Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Plan highlights grounds, collections, community awareness, funding

Mower County Historical Society Director Randy Forster presented the 2017 MCHS annual report and a five-year strategic plan to the Austin City Council during its work session on July 2.

Forster, who took over as director in the fall of 2017, highlighted several key areas of focus from 2018-2022.

Buildings and Grounds

Email newsletter signup

The MCHS currently maintains 17 structures, three train cars and six outdoor displays that are owned by Mower County. Seven of the buildings are 120 years or older, three are between 50-65 years of age and eight are between 10-45 years. One of the buildings, the Grand Army of the Republic Hall in Grand Meadow, is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

With a normal repair budget of $10,500, the MCHS plans to evaluate each building to “create an ongoing maintenance log that documents each building’s yearly maintenance needs and potential repairs,” according to the report. The list will then be categorized into minor and major repairs and will be scheduled accordingly.

Forster also plans for the MCHS board to “identify future expansion needs to alleviate space constraints, provide adequate storage needs and allow for future growth.” The MCHS has 35,000 square feet of building space, over 27,000 of which is dedicated to exhibit space. Over 4,000 square feet is dedicated to storage, while only 300 square feet is dedicated to administrative space, resulting in cramped conditions.

Forster said the installation of new shelving will be completed soon and the society will develop a site development and use plan next year. The plan will be used through 2022 to allow for future site development.

Collections and Exhibits

As of October 2017, the MCHS had 14,909 three-dimensional objects, approximately 12,000 archival materials and library books and approximately 7,600 photographs, only half of which are inventoried.

Foster said artifacts stored in the Church, Fire and Communication buildings will be relocated in order to open those buildings to the public. Tour scripts will be researched and developed for about three to four buildings a year and staff will work on the creation of a finding aid or research guide for specific collections or topics to be posted online. They also plan to continue with the inventory and digitization of photographs.

The MCHS also hopes to develop new exhibits each year, such as an exhibit commemorating the 100th anniversary of the American Legion in 2019.

The MCHS has over 14,900 three-dimensional objects in its collection. Michael Stoll/mike.stoll@austindailyherald.com

Community Awareness and Involvement

As a means of creating awareness, Forster hopes to “maintain strong partnerships with organizations, businesses, and groups within Mower County to invite new programming and opportunities for growth” as well as “actively serve every community in Mower County.”

Forster said the MCHS will evaluate all fundraisers and special events for statistics such as cost, visitor numbers, volunteers needed, etc., to determine what worked and what did not work in the past and implement a new special event or fundraiser in 2019. Staff will also work on developing and implementing at least one new school program a year, including programs that can be taken into the classroom.


Mower County (42 percent), donations (18 percent), fundraisers (17 percent) and memberships (7 percent) were the largest sources of funding for the MCHS in 2017. The general fund expenses for 2017 were 45 percent for staff salaries, 24 percent for payroll taxes/services, 14 percent for utilities, 6 percent for office supplies, 3 percent for advertising, 2.8 percent for insurance/fees/dues, 2.5 percent for fair/events, 1 percent for archives conversation and 1.7 percent for other expenses.

According to Forster, there were 368 total memberships as of October 2017, an almost 40 percent decrease from 590 memberships in 2012.

Forster hopes to “develop and maintain diverse revenue generation in order to become sustainable” through gradually increasing membership, township support and county contributions and developing and maintaining regular support of at least $5,000 a year from the city of Austin. A staff salary evaluation, which will compare MCHS staff salaries to those in similar positions at historical societies throughout Minnesota, is planned for this year. Forster wants to implement the results in the 2019 budget.

The MCHS also received grant money for several projects in 2017:

• Lyle Tribune Microfilm Project – $9,805 grant from the Minnesota Historical Society to assist volunteer Mitch Helle with putting copies of the Lyle Tribune Newspaper at the MCHS archive library onto microfilm;

• Lyle Oral History Project – $7,944 grant from the Minnesota Historical Society to assist Helle in collecting oral history about student life and businesses in Lyle. This project was completed in March;

• Lyle Tribune Digitization Project – $6,405.84 grant from the Worth County Development Authority to assist Helle in getting the Lyle Tribune online. The project still needs an additional $2,000;

• Collections Building Phase II – $47,570 grant from the Minnesota Historical Society with an additional $2,398 from the Hormel Foundation and $700 from the Austin Area Foundation for the completion of the Collections Building and;

• MCHS at 70 Exhibit and Christmas in the County – two, $500 grants from the Freeborn-Mower Cooperative to support both events.