This summer, sisters Tami Hensel and Vallaurie "Val" Crawford are splitting the work of director of the Hubbard County Historical Museum.
Located on the lower levels of the historic courthouse, the museum opened for the season on May 4 and is open to the public from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday.
Crawford minds the museum during the earlier hours of the day, while Hensel is working at her downtown business, Cattail Creek Framing, next to Pioneer Park.
Long way ’round
The two sisters were brought up in the Twin Cities, but they spent a lot of time in the Park Rapids area, where their grandfather owned a resort. Hensel moved here permanently in 1979, only two years out of high school.
Trained as an elementary school teacher with a degree in technical illustration and commercial design, Hensel did framing at Cattail Creek when it was owned by Monika Wilkins, then bought the shop from her and expanded it to include an art gallery.
After 22 years, she downsized it this year and moved into a space at the rear of the building, while a new candy shop called Enjoy opened in the Main Avenue storefront.
Crawford, meanwhile, has had a globe-trotting career involving international journalism, health policy and higher education. She edited publications for the World Health Organization and the United Nations University in Tokyo; taught at universities in Taiwan, India and the Philippines; and worked for seven U.S. newspapers as well as the Japan Times and the Taipei Times. (Taipei is the capital city of Taiwan.)
In March, she published an article in Health Policy Watch comparing public precautions against COVID-19 between Nevis and Taipei. In April, Crawford interviewed the “iron minister” – Taiwan Health Minister Shih-Chung Chen – for the same publication.
“I’ve been in love with Taiwan for 42 years,” she said.
She bought a permanent home in the Nevis area just a few years ago, about the time both sisters started attending the talks given by the historical society’s monthly guest speakers.
Crawford still works as a freelance editor – something that, according to Hensel, she found she can do online, “so it’s ideal for her to have a home up here,” also so they can spend time with their mother, Sharon Crawford. “It’s important that we’re both around right now, for her,” said Hensel.
Hensel said the opportunity to direct the museum this year came about when Hubbard County Historical Society board president Jan Rumpza stopped in her shop and mentioned they were looking for a director.
“The last time they needed a director, my sister applied for it,” said Hensel. “But she was in Taiwan when they did the interview. She was working for a medical university over there, and she didn’t get back in time for the interviews.”
This time, when the position opened up again, Crawford was in Taiwan again – and her flight home was delayed from January to April.
“Again, she was going to miss the interview,” said Hensel. “We started thinking that it would be the perfect job for us to split, because she doesn’t really want to work full-time, and I have to work at the frame shop. So, we’re splitting the hours at the museum.”
Splitting duties, too
Crawford takes care of the grant writing and social media for the history museum, while Hensel described her specialty as “more of the people connections – talking to you, doing publicity, communicating with the board, that kind of thing. We have different skill sets.”
“Now that I am retired, when Tami brought up the idea, I was delighted,” said Crawford. “She is the perfect person for the job, and she just said, ‘Laurie, if you can cover half the hours, we can do this.’ And I said, ‘Of course … and I can do some of the stuff that you don’t want to do, and you can do some of the stuff I don’t want to do.’”
Hensel said she thinks it will work well, “because I have a lot of experience in display and conservation and graphics and that kind of thing, and she has a lot of experience in words and computer stuff.”
Crawford observed that Hensel is “very Park Rapids, and I’m kind of a city mouse. She’s the one that has the knowledge that’s integral to the job. I just do a little social media.”
While Hensel was content to call the sisters “co-directors” of the museum, Crawford minimized her role, saying, “Tami’s the grand poobah; I’m just the first-half-of-the-week labor force.”
“We were so excited when we got to interview them,” said Rumpza. “We said, ‘This is like having two of the very best people working together.’ It’s going to work out beautifully.”
Crawford said she agreed to help her sister on the condition that Hensel will be the boss. “We don’t want a democracy here,” she said. “It takes too long to agree on things. And she said, ‘Well, I wouldn’t want the job to come between us, so maybe that’s a good idea.’”
Excitement about museum
Hensel and Rumpza shared their excitement about the local history by giving a tour of the museum and pointing out favorite areas, such as the “toggery” where clothing and accessories from bygone eras are displayed, the eight built-in vault doors, a miniature logging and ice harvest display, a doctor’s office complete with bound copies of National Geographic dating back to 1888, a vintage classroom and a model of the old courthouse as it looked in years past.
“It’s a wonderful building,” said Crawford, who voiced an interest in architecture. “Every single room is a separate world. It just fires the imagination.”
She also admitted that the toggery “gets the girl in me,” though she also likes the display of old typewriters.
“I just have always been interested in history,” said Hensel. “I find it fascinating, the continuity between when Park Rapids began and now, and how it’s evolved. It’s like a growing, living thing. Just like we change, Park Rapids has changed and grown. We all have our growing pains.”
Rumpza admitted she hated history when she was in school, “but this is so personal. That makes it better.”
She said the local perspective makes it so much more relevant than “what battle was fought on what date, somewhere a long ways away.” For example, she noted about the costumes and accessories in the toggery, “a lot of them we know who wore them. It’s families that were here in the early 1900s, maybe in the 1800s, and they still have family around here. That’s just amazing to me.”
“I’ve always loved the museum,” said Crawford. “My daughter-in-law in Japan is a museum professional who worked with Yayoi Kusama, who’s the spotted pumpkin lady. This museum professional visited our museum, and she was so impressed. She said it has incredible potential.”
She said comments like that got her interested in taking the museum job. But with a doctorate in political science, she added, the appeal of history isn’t hard to understand. “I’ve been fascinated to watch change through the decades, in Park Rapids as well as elsewhere,” she said.
Crawford recalled the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, where she lived for a time. “It was the early 90s before they dumbed it down for the tourists,” she said. “They had back galleries of lace, and they had all sort of things, and then they cut it down to like a 12th of that, so that they could get more people through. But we still have all the goodies.”
Moving history forward
Both sisters dropped hints about ideas for promoting the museum that they would like to run by the historical society board.
One project that Hensel would like to work on involves geocaching items at historical sites, such as tokens to visit the museum or to redeem a prize at the gift store. Another involves posting photos of details of local buildings, such as a pattern of bricks or the date on a cornerstone, and having a scavenger hunt to locate them.
Hensel said the idea of these projects would be “to draw people into the museum from the community, a little more modern kind of outreach than the traditional fundraisers that we’ve had.”
“Oh, man, there’s so many things we could do,” said Crawford. “We could get kids in to reorganize and learn how to be curators and catalog things.”
Feeling like a kid again seems to be a theme. “Tami and I brainstorm together, all the fun stuff we could do,” said Crawford. “I wanted to make a horror movie at night, just to show the different moods of the rooms. But we’re working with the board and trying to act on their priorities, and so far it’s just been great.”