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Rice County Historical Society director earns lifetime achievement award
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Sue Garwood doesn’t view her role as collecting artifacts but rather collecting stories about people.

“Artifacts are containers for memory,” said Garwood, executive director of the Rice County Historical Society. “One of the reasons why we don’t collect photographs where we don’t know anyone is because it’s not about the picture — it’s about people.”

Garwood herself is a person making history, now recognized as a Lifetime Achievement Award winner by the Minnesota Alliance of Local History Museums.

Nominated by Cathy Osterman, Northfield Historical Society executive director, Garwood was recognized for her achievement during the MALHM virtual conference April 29.

Sue Garwood, executive director of the Rice County Historical Society, was named a Lifetime Achievement Award winner by the Minnesota Alliance of Local History Museums April 29. She’s pictured here in the RCHS museum. (Misty Schwab/southernminn.com)

“She was an easy choice for nominating,” Osterman said. “She has been a great mentor to me, both before I became the executive director of Northfield Historical Society and certainly now that I am the executive director. I know she has provided the same mentoring to others in the field and those who are new to the field itself.”

Brian Schmidt, RCHS president, said he and the other volunteers were excited to see Garwood recognized for the qualities they’ve seen her exemplify as executive director.

“The leadership she has for the museum in Rice County is unbelievable,” Schmidt said. “She knows how to do the grants for any kind of project. She knows A through Z of the museum life, which is rewarding for the Rice County Historical Society museum.”

As a child growing up in West St. Paul, Garwood cultivated an early interest in history. Her dad was “a natural storyteller,” and she enjoyed listening to his stories about growing up. Being a Girl Scout in the program’s bicentennial year, 1976, also gave a 9-year-old Garwood an opportunity to step into a historical role. For the Girl Scouts’ Jamboree, where the girls each portrayed a woman of history, Garwood dressed up as Florence Nightingale.

But it wasn't until college that Garwood knew she had a future talking about the past. She had planned to become an elementary school teacher until she realized she could apply her passion for history to another field. At St. Cloud State, she earned her Bachelor of Arts degree in American studies with a heritage preservation certification. She focused on Minnesota history, from about 1800 to 1970, and learned how to weave together different points of view to understand the bigger story of these eras.

Throughout Garwood’s own history, her favorite aspects of the past have evolved and changed. In earlier years, she was especially intrigued with geography and the way in which people moved from one location to another. She then became interested in the preservation of buildings and architecture, and then textiles and what people wore during different points of history. That sparked a fascination with photography; she described the way she can pin down the era of a photograph based solely on the clothing of the subjects.

“But ultimately I think right now, professionally, I am very interested in Native American history in Rice County,” Garwood said. “I don’t mean just as an exhibit; [the history is] complicated, and that interests me.”

On June 3, Garwood celebrates 18 years since she became executive director of RCHS. Before that, she was employed at the Northfield Historical Society for 12 years and in the Carleton College Archives for three years.

In her 32 years with historical preservation, one of Garwood’s biggest achievements was being one of the founders of the MALHM — the very organization that presented her the Lifetime Achievement Award. She also spent two years, 2000-01, co-coordinating a statewide manual and training document for historical societies.

At RCHS, Garwood said, “I’m really proud of everything we’ve done.” By “we,” she means the 100-plus volunteers, who in the last year contributed 2,000 hours to RCHS. In a non-pandemic year, when in-person events present more volunteer opportunities, she said those hours are doubled.

During Garwood’s tenure, RCHS has become the repository for seven of Rice County’s 14 townships. Per their governments’ wishes, she said RCHS is open to being the caretaker of the records for the other townships as well.

While serving as executive director of RCHS, Garwood obtained her master's of information and library science with an archives concentration. For one of her classes, she created a website on the history of photography. She continues to use that website, sgarwood.com, professionally.

Garwood has enjoyed the educational aspect of history, particularly when area schoolchildren visit the museum. RCHS offered tours to sixth graders before she stepped in as executive director, but since then, more grades and schools have taken field trips there. Even when students were distance learning, Garwood led virtual tours through RCHS.

The map of Rice County is one of Sue Garwood’s favorite parts of the museum, where she serves as executive director. When students visit for school, she knows where to tell them to stand so they can see the change in elevation throughout the county. (Misty Schwab/southernminn.com)

There’s more to come for RCHS this year alone. Garwood looks forward to RCHS receiving a Legacy Award at the Faribault Chamber of Commerce’s Business Award Luncheon on May 20. At the museum itself, Garwood said the most exciting change ahead is a year-round agriculture exhibit soon to be built in the main gallery.

“It’s a great place to work, and I have to say Faribault is a real gem,” Garwood said. “I would argue it’s one of the best [towns] architecturally in the state … [We have] a community that really says history matters.”

School Board drops controversial logo, won't replace the image
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After reviewing several options to replace a mascot logo considered racially insensitive, the Northfield School Board has banned the use of the image and rejected options depicting the school’s Raider mascot.

The board’s decision Monday came after it considered several replacement mascot logos.

The plan is to instead only utilize Northfield’s well-known “N” symbol and continue to feature the school’s maroon and yellow colors. In December, community members began to submit ideas for the new logo. A committee of 14 reviewing potential replacement logos received 20 submissions, reportedly ranging from original artwork to trademarked logos. Neuger Communications then created three proposed logos. The change does not disqualify the School Board from adopting a new mascot logo in the future if it opts to do so.

The replacement options included various images of a person in a cowboy hat. In proposing none of the proposed images be used, School Board Chair Julie Pritchard said any new mascot logo would still depict an outlaw “despite our best intentions.” Pritchard noted that several NFL teams don’t have mascots. To her, the letter N “is a strong logo.”

She said changing the actual Raiders name would be “controversial,” adding she believes the Raiders name transcends its historical context and helps Northfield students and alumni forge connections.

Fellow School Board member Amy Goerwitz also said there was “a disconnect” between the proposed new Raider mascot logos and a desire for the image to not portray an outlaw. She disputed that the proposal accurately depicted a gender-neutral person. However, she spoke highly of the work of the committee and Neuger, the communications firm which helped develop the proposed option.

Board member Tom Baraniak agreed with much of what Goerwitz said.

“It just doesn’t grab anybody with a lot of excitement,” he said of the proposals

Since its introduction in 1956, the former Raiders logo has been controversial. Between its connection to violence in the image of the sword and the racial ties with the image’s Asian-appearing features, concerns over its appearance have been brought to the school and its administrators. The replacement process began after Nicky Osterman, representing the Northfield High School Student Council, told the School Board in February 2020 that he had spoken with NHS Athletic Director Joel Olson about the current mascot and how it doesn’t represent the James-Younger Gang’s 1876 robbery of First National Bank.

Archer House portico collapses as uncertainty over its future continues
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The front-center portion of the historic Archer House River Inn’s portico collapsed Friday.

The collapse came approximately six months following the devastating Nov. 12 fire that appears to have destroy the building. The other portions of the building remained upright as of Monday.

Owners had expressed concern that a months-long insurance process was worsening water damage in the building following the fire and possibly endangering the chances of salvaging the historic and beloved structure.

Brett Reese, managing principal and chairman of the Rebound Enterprises LLC Board, which owns the building, said last month that they hoped to learn of the building’s fate by this month. However, the board originally hoped to learn of that decision by the end of December before that timeline shifted to March. Word never came from the insurance company, Auto Owners Firm. Reese attributed the delays to the relatively large scope of the project and the significant loss incurred.

The iconic building, built along the east bank of the Cannon River, sustained heavy smoke and water damage throughout the structure during the Nov. 12 fire, reportedly caused by a hood over the smoker at one of the Inn’s restaurants, Smoqehouse. Fire crews reportedly used more than 2 million gallons of water to combat the blaze over the course of nearly 24 hours. Some places, especially the first-floor Smoqehouse and the four levels directly above it, were completely damaged. In other spots, the damage wasn’t as extensive. It initially appeared to be a total loss.

Building owners have said that once the fate of the Archer House is determined, they “will be able to begin in earnest the process of assessing future options for the site which could include a wide range of possibilities, but not limited to restoration, replacement or redevelopment.”

Reese said if the structure needs to be taken down, the owners are interested in recognizing the role the Archer House played in Northfield and carrying a new structure forward with “charm, character,” an option he speculated could include a hotel, restaurant or apartments and condominiums.

The gang's back: 2021 Defeat Days set to take place
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The Northfield Defeat of Jesse James Days Committee announced late last week that its optimistic that the city’s largest celebration will take place this year close to full capacity after most in-person events were canceled last year due to COVID-19.

Thursday’s announcement came after Gov. Tim Walz removed capacity limits and additional COVID-19 restrictions as more Minnesotans became vaccinated against the virus and deaths and illnesses continue falling. DJJD, a multi-day celebration the weekend after Labor Day, is considered one of the largest community celebrations in Minnesota and draws an estimated 200,000 people to Northfield annually. Events include re-enactors portraying the 1876 First National Bank robbery, car show, live music, and other activities.

“The DJJD committee, along with city staff and local health officials, are hopeful that the 2021 Defeat of Jesse James Days celebration will take place in as close to full capacity as possible,” the committee wrote. “The DJJD Committee remains committed to hosting a safe celebration for all, and will continue ahead with plans for the 2021 celebration (while) making certain accommodations to increase sanitation measures through celebration events when and where possible.”

Last year, DJJD included a one-day limited event with most activities pushed online.

DJJD Committee General Chair Galen Malecha noted the event is “a great economic booster” for Northfield. He noted plans would only change if Walz issues new restrictions due to another viral outbreak, a situation he doesn’t currently envision happening.

“It brings a lot of people to the community,” he said of DJJD. “There’s a lot of people in the community that participate in various events.”

Other large community events are also back on following Walz’s announcement, including the Minnesota Street Rod Association-sponsored Back to the ‘50s Weekend from June 18-20, and the Freeborn County Fair from Aug. 3-8. The Twin Cities celebration Basilica Block Party is expected to take place in September, the Steele County Free Fair is planned from Aug. 17-22, and the Rice County Fair is scheduled from July 21-25.