Published originally in the Cokato Historical Society's In the Midst Of (June, 2019) vol 39 no 2. Copyright Cokato Historical Society
Throughout the years, the role of the assistant at the museum has remained constant. The assistant works with the director to help keep the museum running smoothly. Some of their specific work includes managing the collection, helping patrons with research, and creating exhibits.
As of May 2019, the Museum is on to its sixth Museum Assistant. In 1989, Dave Johnson joined Director Irene Bender as the museums first assistant. Susan Maikkula became the second, replacing Johnson when he went to the McLeod CountyMuseum in 1991. Mike Worcester became the final assistant under Irene Bender from 1993-1996. When Worcester became the director in 1997, Audrey Tack was his first assistant, she worked at the museum from 1997-2011. Once Tack retired, Johanna Ellison became the next assistant. Ellison remained the assistant from 2011-2018 before becoming the Director after Worcester left for other opportunities. Bob Gasch took up the role as Temporary Assistant from December 2018 through May 2019 while they searched for a new long-term assistant.
In May 2019, I, Rachel Olson, joined Johanna as the new museum assistant. I graduated from Concordia College-Moorhead with a major in Heritage and Museum Studies and minors in Norwegian Language, Scandinavian, and Classical Studies. Over the last two summers I was the Co-Lab Director at an archaeological dig near Florence, Italy. This is where I was able to get hands on experience with collections management. When I am not at the museum, I am most likely spending time with family and friends, gardening, knitting or reading books on Scandinavian history. I look forward to helping create new exhibits and learning more about the history of the town and the communities that surround it.
Looking Back: A Legacy of Cokato Museum's Past Directors
Published originally in the Cokato Historical Society's In the Midst Of (April, 2019) vol 39 no 1. Copyright Cokato Historical Society.
Since it opened in 1976, five museum directors have stood at the helm of the Cokato Museum. In the museum world this is remarkable, considering staff at other organizations typically transition out every five to eight years. Cokato’s ability to retain its staff is a testament to the not only the museum, but the community as well. The longevity of Cokato’s director’s helped build a solid foundation for the museum.
John Martinson holds the title of Cokato’s first museum director. Martinson was hired in February 1976 and played an integral role in the construction of the exhibits at the museum. Under his direction, the Cokato Museum integrated the originalmuseum collection from the H. C. Bull Library into the new displays. Martinson stayed on for a little over a year beforemoving on to other job opportunities.
Patricia Halonen became the Cokato Museum’s second director in July of 1977. Her career included creatingexhibits such as “Memories of Minnesota Childhood” and “Art of Advertising.” She also coordinated numerous Cokato Historical Society events such as bus tours of historic sites. Her five year career at the museum ended in June of 1982.
Irene Bender became the third museum director in July of 1982. A few of the many projects Bender took on included the restoration of the Akerlund Studio and collection. The project received the 1989 Award of Merit from the American Association of State and Local History. She also helped run the sister city program with Sweden. After the 1992 tornado, Bender rallied volunteers and museum colleagues to assist in the repair of Akerlund Studio. In September of 1996, Bender moved on to other endeavors after 14 years of service.
Mike Worcester assumed the role of director in March of 1997. Mike’s career as director of the museum spanned over 21 years. Within Mike’s time at the helm, the museum has upgraded its microfilm reader, computers, social media, storage shelving, and cataloging program. In 2003 and 2008, Mike oversaw the repair and reconstruction of the roof and later the foundation of the studio. He and Dave Johnson completed the digitization of the Akerlund negative collection. The project received an award from the Minnesota Alliance of Local History Museums in 2017. Mike also spearheaded the museum’s new lighting project, a task that ensured a more energy efficient way to display of the museum’s artifacts. His final contribution was writing and receiving a grant to update the Akerlund Studio’s National Historic Site nomination form, which had previously been written in the 1970s. For his years of service, Mike Worcester received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Minnesota Alliance of Local History Museums during the MAHLM Annual Conference on April 25, 2019.
In December of 2018, Johanna Ellison became Cokato’s fifth and current director. Her new role follows four passionate individuals who largely impacted the museum and community, shaping the museum to the well-respected institution it is today.