By Tina Snell, Staff Writer
The Minnesota Military Museum, located at Camp Ripley, is looking for volunteers. Executive Director Jeff Thielen said he currently has about a dozen or so people who come in and help in a variety of areas. But, he would like to see more.
“To volunteer here, a person does not need an expertise in military history, archival restoration or gun repair,” he said. “They just have to have a desire to help out.”
John Duehs from Cold Spring, Kerry Beckenbach from Rice and Roxanne Backowski from Waite Park all started volunteering at the museum about a year ago. Duehs said he’s a “Bit of a gun guy.”
“I was in the Army from 1963 – 1966, but I also have an interest in preserving military history,” said Duehs. “Here, I get to work on items I wouldn’t usually see.”
Besides weaponry, Duehs is also working on a display for the 40th anniversary of the Norwegian Home Guard visit to Camp Ripley.
Beckenbach is also ex-military and an armchair history buff. He was with the Navy from 1973 – 1977.
“I have been retired for three years and needed something else to do with my time,” said Beckenbach, who also volunteers at the Sartell Senior Center and the Air Show in St. Cloud.
Beckenbach likes to work with leather and has been restoring World War I and World War II saddles, boots, shoes and cases.
“I am retired law enforcement and I treat the items I work on as if they were a piece of evidence, making sure I don’t do the piece any harm,” he said. “I am helping to preserve items my neighbors may have used, allowing us the freedom we have now.”
“If it’s lost, it’s lost forever,” said Duehs.
Beckenbach said he has recognized names on donated items and is happy to be preserving them for future generations.
Duehs said he gets a feeling of satisfaction and is proud of his work restoring the pieces he works on.
Both agree that the museum is more than what one reads in history books.
“Every day I notice something different,” said Duehs.
Backowski, a Little Falls 2007 graduate, has a minor degree in informational studies and is working on her master’s degree in librarian informational studies.
“My first job was at the Little Falls Public Library while I was in high school,” she said. “I also worked at the library at St. Scholastica in Duluth and I now work at the St. Cloud Technical Community College library as a library technician.”
While Backowski said she has no military background, she has worked as an intern at the Veterans Memorial Hall in Duluth.
When Backowski started at the Military Museum, she was given free rein in the library and soon learned that the organization of the books and manuscripts had not been a priority. So she started organizing the shelves, learning about the originator of the library, Jack Johnson’s, unique classification system.
“Right away I saw a problem with the library catalog,” she said. “The books in the catalog were not necessarily on the shelf and some books on the shelf had not been cataloged. It was a librarian’s worst nightmare.”
Backowski said there are over 10,000 books in the library which need categorizing and organizing, plus boxes which haven’t even been unpacked yet.
The library’s mission is to acquire a collection pertaining to military history with an emphasis on Minnesota.
Backowski said she sees the future of the library as a research facility with regular hours for patrons.
“I get a great satisfaction from volunteering,” she said. “It’s a challenge and I enjoy seeing my accomplishments. This is a local project and I’m helping make a difference.”
The three volunteers said that helping at the Museum is a fun experience and that each person is able to do their job while contributing to history.
“If you like history, it’s a fun place to work,” Backowski said. “I love talking to the visitors, many from around the world, and to the troops who are from other states.”
The Minnesota Military Museum opened in 1976, and has always operated with volunteers. They greet the visitors, give tours, work in the library and assist with restoration of uniforms, weaponry, photos and more. They work in the gift shop, catalog artifacts, take photos, build exhibits and do inventory.
During 2012, volunteers worked more than 2,500 hours at the Museum.
Thielen said there are positions for everyone and the Museum will match a volunteer’s interests with their job.
“We are really looking for people to help with a data entry project using new software called ‘Past Perfect,’” he said. “When the Museum takes in an artifact, a record is created and the item is stored. The information on those records needs to be entered into the new program; it’s digitized, computerized and photographed.”
Other volunteers are currently needed to help with tours and to help in the library, where Thielen said houses the most extensive collection of military books in the state.
There are about a dozen buildings in the museum’s complex, housing hundreds of thousands of artifacts.
“The next major exhibit in the Museum will be for the 100th anniversary of World War I beginning in 2016,” said Thielen. “We will be needing volunteers to help with that.”
Volunteerism is about doing what a person loves to do, Thielen said. Working at the Minnesota Military Museum is also about giving back, supporting the veterans and preserving their stories, he said.