Opening a door to history; Historical society, Hormel Historic Home offering several programs to bring the past to Austin

The audience at a recent Lunchbox History Series listens to John Isch during a presentation

The audience at a recent Lunchbox History Series listens to John Isch during a presentation

With Labor Day and students returning to school unofficially closing out the summer’s busy slate of events, two local organizations are still offering a variety of programs coming up, many of them with a historical twist.

The Hormel Historical Home and Mower County Historical Society are offering several history, culture, health and food based programs that have gained a following in recent years.

“I do think there’s definite interest,” HHH Executive Director Holly Johnson said.

 Mower County Historical Society

One of the Mower County Historical Society’s most prominent programs is expanding thanks to recent success.

People pack the Pioneer Building for a Lunchbox History Series presentation at the Mower County Historical Society on Aug. 27.  Eric Johnson/

People pack the Pioneer Building for a Lunchbox History Series presentation at the Mower County Historical Society on Aug. 27. Eric Johnson/

While the Lunchbox History Series programs have traditionally gone April through September, this year Haymond is expanding the program into October, November and December.

“They’ve been very popular, there’s been lots of interest in them,” Executive Director John Haymond said.

At 1 p.m. on Sept. 24, the Lunchbox History series program will feature Tom Hoover speaking about Howard Snyder, the inventor of the Maytag Washing machine, who was originally from the Austin area.

At 1 p.m. Oct. 22, attorney Paul Spyhalski will discuss a book about he wrote about railroad history, and he’ll discuss the role of railroads in Mower County.

The November and December programs aren’t yet locked in, but Haymond noted he may arrange November’s program to focus on the history of Jesse James in Minnesota.

Haymond said the aim is to make the programs unique, engaging and entertaining — not just a dry rendition of the facts.

The programs have gained a core following.

“I think it’s a matter of people are beginning to catch on that there’s this program and it actually is enjoyable, it’s worthwhile,” Haymond said.

Haymond has aimed for variety in the historical society’s programs, which can focus on local history, statewide history, things people never heard of and more local, familiar topics.

Attendance for the program ranges from 30 to 100 people, and Haymond said the most attended program was on the former state school in Owatonna, which drew about 100 people.

Haymond did a program on the 1933 Hormel Strike which had about 60 people.

But history isn’t limited to the historical society’s site at the Mower County Fairgrounds. In fact, Haymond is looking to reach out to community groups. Haymond was asked to give a program at the Mower County Senior Center, and the programs have become a monthly occurrence at 2 p.m. on Wednesdays.

“That’s something that’s now pretty much a permanent monthly thing,” Haymond said.

That accomplishes one of Haymond’s missions of taking programs out into the community.

“We need to do more community engagement and community outreach,” he said.

Haymond even started taking requests for potential topics, and one woman recently requested he talk about the Crimean War of the 1850s and Florence Nightingale.

Along with the Senior Center programs, Haymond has spoken to the Lions, Village Co-Op, Riverland Community College classes, and he’s giving a presentation next month to the Freeborn County Historical Society. Such programs and outreach are an important part of being an engaging member of the community, Haymond said.

“The more we do, the more it helps,” he said.

But there is a limited number of resources. The programs take time to research and coordinate, and Haymond said they may be reaching their limit.

“There’s only so many that I can accommodate in the course of a given month,” Haymond said.

However, Haymond sees another potential growth opportunity: more out-county involvement. Most of the programs thus far have been concentrated in Austin, and Haymond wants to potentially set up programming in the townships, small towns or schools.

The historical society will host its fall Harvest Fest Celebration from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Sept. 26.

Print Hormel Historic Home

Programming is taking on a little different look starting this month at the Hormel Historic Home.

The home changes its Social Concerns program to the new Hearth & Home series after feedback the former name didn’t properly describe the slate of programming.

“It’ll be conversation and discussion meant to … educate and inspire guests,” Johnson said.

Hearth & Home kicked off Sept. 1 with a program from author Peggy Keener, who is also an Austin Daily Herald columnist. Next, historical society curator Jaimie Timm will give a program titled “Buggy Rides and Parlor Visits” on the history of courting and how it happened in the past. On Nov. 3, Mayo Clinic Health System Dietitian Emily Schmidt will speak.

The programs are on the first Tuesday of each month at 10 a.m.

Johnson said the programs help meet their goals of promoting history, culture, arts and entertainment in Austin.

“We’re just trying to be part of the community and offer things where people can enjoy the program and see the home,” Johnson said.

The programs aren’t entirely on history, as they look to mix in modern topics like food, health, wellness and financial planning, with Johnson noting food and health programs are often favorites.

“When food’s involved it’s pretty popular,” she said, noting they often feature sampling and cooking demonstrations at programs.

Johnson said they to keep programs focused on topics that are relevant, informative and entertaining, according to Johnson.

“It’s edu-tainment,” Johnson said.

Along with Hearth & Home, the Hormel Home will continue its History Happy Hour programs on the second Monday of each month with a social hour for snacks and drinks at 5:30 p.m. and the program is at 6 p.m..

On Sept. 14, Tim Ruzek will speak about “History of Mill Pond,” and on Oct 12, Dean Ulland will speak about “Prohibition in Mower County.” Peter Ausenhus from Worth Brewery in Northwood, Iowa, will also be speaking at the Oct. 12 Happy Hour.

History Happy Hour is co-sponsored by the home, the historical society and the Friends of the Austin Public Library. Members of each group can attend the programs for free, otherwise non-members pay $5.

The Hormel Historic Home will also be hosting its Best Bartender Contest at 6 p.m. Oct. 21. Doors open at 5 p.m. and the cost is $5. JT Thompson will provide live music.

From 1 to 4 p.m. Nov. 21, the HHH will host its annual Holiday Open House.



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