Jeff Thielen to retire May 1

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We bid farewell to Jeff Thielen, who will retire as executive director on May 1 after serving in that capacity for six years.

Jeff's imprint on the museum has been profound.  Among the projects and changes implemented under Jeff’s leadership are (1) a much stronger volunteer program; (2) various veteran initiatives, including the Veterans Registry and rotating Featured Veteran exhibits; (3) putting the archives on professional footing and hiring a full-time archivist; (4) putting the library on professional footing as well, and on track to become part of the statewide inter-library loan program; (5) a complete overhaul of artifact record keeping, which included converting old paper records to a computerized database; (6) enhanced outreach initiatives, such as the popular Traveling Trunk program to libraries and schools; (7) museum certification by the US Air Force, which makes it possible to acquire USAF aircraft for display (“Getting a C-130 is going to happen!” says Jeff); and (8) more vigorous fund-raising and grantsmanship.  

We wish him well in all his future endeavors and we salute him for a job well done.  Thanks, Jeff!

Traveling Trunks

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"Traveling Trunks" containing artifacts associated with the Civil War, World War I, World War II, and the Vietnam War are now available for checkout, free of charge. Intended primarily for teachers who can use them in classrooms to bring history to life, they can also be used by speakers or for static displays. Learn more.

New archivist named

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We're pleased to announce the appointment of Ryan Welle as the museum’s new full-time archivist.  He replaces Chad Conrady, who left in October for a position with the Library of Congress.

Ryan comes with an impressive range of prior experiences in library and archival settings, including work at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where in 2016 he received his MA in Library and Information Science with a focus in archives.  Other professional venues include the Wisconsin Veterans Museum, Wisconsin Historical Society, Michigan Technological University in Houghton, and (currently as a volunteer) the McLeod County Historical Society.  While at the Wisconsin Veterans Museum, he worked primarily with papers and photographic materials from veterans who served in different service branches and from time periods ranging from WWI to the Gulf War.  His bachelor’s degree (2012) was from Southwest Minnesota State University in Marshall with majors in history and philosophy.

He began work for us on January 3.  Welcome, Ryan!

Doug Bekke retires; Doug Thompson becomes Interim Curator

Construction proceeds on a special exhibit on the Civil War, scheduled to open summer 2011.  Shown here is curator Doug Bekke and friends.

Doug Bekke (above, with friends, during installation of the Two Civil Wars exhibit in 2011) retired on December 31 after serving as our curator for 16 years.

Doug began volunteering for the museum in the late 1990s.  He became the assistant curator in the spring of 2000 and, that fall, became curator.  During the years that followed, Doug actively managed a collection that grew substantially in size and quality; developed procedures to ensure more systematic conservation and restoration of artifacts; oversaw the conversion of paper to digitized artifact records; trained and supervised a cadre of exhibit/collection volunteers; and personally conducted over 100 oral histories that are now transcribed and part of the museum’s archive.

These behind-the-scenes functions are critically important, but Doug recognized that the museum’s “public face” is what ultimately brings attention and support.  He created several high-profile special exhibits while continually enhancing or cycling objects in and out of the on-going permanent ones, and he regularly organized public events that expanded the museum’s reach, luring thousands of new visitors to its doorstep.  His last major exhibit, “Into the Fight: Minnesota and the First World War,” which opened in July, imaginatively ushers visitors through a simulated bunker on the Western Front while telling the story of the world’s “Great War.”  


Doug Thompson, above, the museum’s Collections Specialist since 2008, has been named as Interim Curator, replacing Doug Bekke.   In this capacity Thompson will be principally responsible for the museum’s ever-growing collection of artifacts, its exhibits, and its educational programs.

Thompson started working at the museum in the late 1990s as a volunteer, helping out with the collection and exhibits.  He has had an interest in military history since an early age and calls himself a voracious reader of history of all types.  Over the years, he has devoted countless volunteer hours to different historical commemorations around the country, mainly in the area of living history, including work for the National Archives, the National World War II Museum in New Orleans, Historic Ft. Snelling, and various airshows.

Thompson grew up in nearby Long Prairie, but lived all over the world as an "Air Force Brat." After high school he went to St. Cloud State University.

Thompson lives in Melrose with his wife and four children.  They are heavily involved in school activities and enjoy traveling as a family (visiting historical sites is a big favorite). 

Give-to-the-Max results announced

Once again, our members and friends gave generously during this year's Nov. 17, 2016, Give-to-the-Max Day.  A grand total of $5,140 was donated, most of which will be matched by a grant from the Katherine B. Andersen Fund of the St. Paul Foundation.

Our archivist moves on; replacement being sought

Chad Conrady, our archivist for the past three years, has taken a new position with the Library of Congress in Washington DC.  His last day on the job was October 14.  Chad was the museum's first paid archivist.  As a trained, certified archivist, he put a series of "best practice" policies and procedures in place that included a complete inventory and reorganization of materials, development of finding aids and significantly improved access, and better storage and conservation of materials.  He began the task of digitizing some of our more important records, developed a website interface, and more.  Needless to say, we are grateful to Chad for his good work with us and we wish him well in his new position.

A national search is underway for his replacement.  Click here for the job announcement and click again for the position description.

We dodged a bullet

A surprise, unexpected mini-tornado swirled through Camp Ripley around 10:30 p.m. September 8, causing considerable damage within the confined spaces it hit.  Fortunately for us, touch down was about half a mile north of the museum.  The museum and its grounds sustained no damage, but it was uncomfortably close.  We remained open as usual.

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A new special exhibit officially opened on July 22, 2016

The museum's latest special exhibit, "In the Fight: Minnesota and the First World War,"  opened on Friday July 22, replacing "Minnesota's Two Civil Wars, 1861-1866," which closed in September 2015.  The new exhibit captures the experiences of Minnesota men and women who served and contributed to the "Great War" effort from 1916 to 1918.  Its purpose is to enrich public understanding of how World War I changed state, national and world history. The First World War began in August 1914, but the US remained officially neutral until April 1917.  Although most of the fighting took place in Europe, 32 nations from throughout the world were eventually drawn into the conflict.  The exhibit includes a simulated World War I bunker and contains 14 static displays and six media presentations.

Below: Two American doughboys and a German 'soldat' pose in front of the recreated German machine gun bunker during opening day.

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Library Consultant Hired

A recent grant has allowed the museum to hire Chris Magnusson as a library consultant to expand and support the efforts of our wonderful library volunteers.  The goal is to make the museum library--which contains nearly 15,000 military-related books, manuscripts, and pamphlets--much more accessible to troops and the public.  

Chris is currently the automation librarian for the Arrowhead Library System and lives in Hibbing.  She has a master's degree in library and information science and a long history of library experience.  She served six years in the Marine Corps.  She will be at the library as needed and will provide coordination to volunteers and museum staff as the project progresses.

You Gave to the Max

Grand total giving to the museum for this year's Give-to-the-Max Day on Nov. 12, 2015, and for two days immediately preceding and following it, was just short of $9000--$8995 to be exact--a record amount for this statewide fundraising event.  THANK YOU to all our donors!!  Your generosity not only keeps us going, but enables us to keep getting better.

New Minnesota Veterans Registry Opens

The museum's new website now includes a Minnesota Veterans Registry, a statewide database containing information about the military service of individual Minnesota veterans.  A qualified veteran is anyone who once served or is serving in the US military and was either born in Minnesota or has lived in Minnesota.

The website Registry is simple to use and anyone can submit a Minnesota veteran's story and photo.  The general public can easily search the database.  The service is free of charge as part of the museum's mission to preserve records of Minnesota veterans' service as well as the related artifacts.

Everyone is strongly encouraged to gather and share veterans' stories by using the Registry. Our goal is to build the largest, most inclusive online database of Minnesota veterans available to the public.  Learn more.

Museum Fully Certified by the Air Force

On August 27, 2015, after a year-long, comprehensive review process that included a site visit, the museum received official word from the U.S. Air Force that it will receive its full certification.  This is in addition to Army museum certification granted in the early 1980s.  It means that the Minnesota Military Museum is now eligible to receive historic Air Force property for purposes of display, including aircraft.  The seven-page report and certification recommendation concludes that the museum "is well managed, meets professional museum standards and practices, and is well positioned for growth."  The review team was particularly impressed with the quality of exhibits and for " much it [the museum] offers and how much it does right considering its size, location, and limited resources."  

New Exhibit on the Vietnam War Opens

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Visitors crowd into the exhibit on opening day.

A new special exhibit, “Minnesota Voices from the Vietnam War” shares the memories and feelings of participants in America's most divisive conflict.  It officially opened on Saturday, July 18, commemorating 50 years since the start of major US combat operations in that country.  Using artifacts, words, and photographs, a series of stories is told about Minnesota veterans who were involved—from the end of WWII when a Minnesota member of an OSS Operational Team parachuted into Hanoi—to 1975 when the 9-year old son of a Vietnamese officer was evacuated by helicopter from our embassy—to the 1980s and ‘90s when Gen. John Vessey worked at the request of the US government to resolve a variety of issues with Vietnamese officials. Curator Doug Bekke notes that “The exhibit focuses on more than just combat.  It also portrays the stories of mechanics, cooks, clerks, logisticians and support troops from all branches.”  The exhibit includes a brief overview of the history of Vietnam and the rise of Ho Chi Minh, and a timeline of significant events in the war. 

An estimated 425 people participated in activities during the July 18 opening, which included guest speakers Gen. John Vessey (USA Ret.), former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff who received a Distinguished Service Cross in Vietnam, and Vietnam veteran Maj. Gen. Larry Shellito (USA Ret.), former Minnesota Adjutant General and current Minnesota Commissioner of Veterans Affairs.  There was food, equipment displays, and period reenactors.  Minnesota authors who have written books on their experiences in Vietnam were available for book signings, and a traveling exhibit sponsored by the Mobile Riverine Force Association was also on site.

It was a BIG Weekend

Boys will be boys. Photo courtesy of Brainerd Dispatch.Over 2400 Scouts and Scouters passed through the museum’s doors May 15-17 and uncounted more just explored the grounds, clambering over tracked vehicles, peering into aircraft, and taking turns in the tank turret trainer.  It was the 2015 Area-Wide Ripley Rendezvous, a Boy Scout mega-camporee that happens every four years.  Thousands of Scouts from five states and parts of Canada converged on Camp Ripley for an activity-packed weekend that kept museum staff and volunteers hopping for three straight days. 

Boys will be boys. Photo courtesy of Brainerd Dispatch.


 Instagram Photo Contest Announced

Visitors are encouraged this summer to take selfies and record their fun as part of a photo contest.  Share the photos using Instagram and post them at #MnMilitaryMuseumPhotoContest2015 between May 1 and September 1.  Prizes will be awarded to the visitor with the most “likes” and also for the most creative selfie.

You can download the free Instagram app from the iTunes App Store or Google Play.

The Museum Goes Wireless

Wireless WiFi is now available at the museum, enabling us to enrich the museum experience for visitors who use mobile devices.  For example, you can now play an interactive game (History Hero) dealing with artifacts on display, and scan QR codes sprinkled throughout the museum to supplement exhibit storylines.  Read on:

  • Be a History Hero

HH_shield.jpgThe history of the world is at risk!  The evil Erasers are closing in on museums and important historical sites!   Can you stop the Aliens from stealing our history? 

Visitors who relish a challenge along with some fun can download History Hero from the iTunes App Store or Google Play.  This free, downloadable, interactive game for use in the museum on a smart phone or tablet is a 20-question quiz for budding history champions.  It can be downloaded on-site with the museum’s free WiFi connection.  Once installed and launched, look under Minneapolis.  The game guides you through our exhibits and poses questions on everything from Minie bullets to Minnesota’s Medal of Honor recipients.  Many thanks to volunteers Jon van der Hagen and Craig Johnson, who adapted this 5-star game for use in the Minnesota Military Museum.

  • Find Those QR Codes

QRimage.pngSo what are those strange graphics now found on the edge of some of the exhibit cases and plaques?  QR (quick response) codes offer supplemental information, videos, pictures and narratives to enhance your experience.  Find out what it was like to eat Civil War food or live in a WWI trench.  Listen and watch machine guns firing.  What did the 99th Infantry Battalion (Sep)  do?  How do you train soldiers to wear a gas mask?  Using the QR codes to find out can add enjoyment, and depth, to your museum experience.

So how does it work?  If you are not already familiar with QR codes, it’s easy:  Install a free Quick Scan or QR Code Reader application from the iTunes App Store or Google Play on your smart phone or tablet (tablets must have a built-in camera).  When you launch the app it will automatically activate your camera.  Hold your camera in front of the QR code (hold it steady) and when the app recognizes the image it will beep and display the information it contains or take you to a designated URL.

New Website Developed for the Museum Archives

Thanks to the fine work being done by our archivist, Chad Conrady, we now have a new website providing links and helpful information on how you can use the resources available in the museum’s archives.  The website has finding aids that enable users to learn what is housed in the archives and what is accessible online.  Also, don’t miss Chad’s blog and Twitter postings.  Learn more by going to our Archives website.

Recent Grants Received for Exhibit Development

We've had good news lately from three organizations willing to help us financially with exhibit development.   

The most recent is a $5,400 grant from Macy's Inc. to support renovation of the museum's Women in the Military exhibit  The exhibit highlights the involvement of women in military service over the past 100 years.  Macy's, the department store chain, has a long-standing commitment to give back financially to communities where their customers and employees work and live, nationwide.

We were also recently rewarded with a $1,500 grant from the Minnesota Power Foundation to support renovation of the Women in the Military exhibit.   The exhibit upgrades should be completed by summer 2015.

Left:  L-R; DeanresizedMinnesota_Power_Grant11-20-14_001.jpg Witt, Kelly Desormey, Minnesota Power, 1LT Janell Johnson, MNARNG, Sandy Erickson, Museum Administrator, and Carl Thesing, Minnesota Power






The Benton Telecommunications Foundation has given a $9,600 grant to support the museum's planned new exhibit about the Vietnam War.  The special exhibit, scheduled to open in July 2015, will mark the 50th anniversary of  the start of major US combat operations in Vietnam. The service of Minnesota Vietnam veterans will be highlighted through their stories, artifacts, and photographs.  Attention will not only be given to combat, but also to the stories of mechanics, cooks, clerks, logisticians, and other support troops from all branches of service. 

The Benton Telecommunications Foundation was founded by the Benton Cooperative Telephone Company in 2007.


Left: Cheryl Scapanski, Benton Telecommunications Foundation Treasurer, presents a check to Jeff Thielen, Executive Director (left) and Doug Bekke, Curator (right).  They stand in front of the Vietnam section of the museum's permanent America at War exhibit.





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