JEREMY WALTNER – PUBLISHER
As recently as two years ago, Ryan Mews hadn’t even heard of Heritage Hall Museum & Archives (HHM&A), let alone appreciated all that it has to offer. But as circumstance would have it, the 2011 graduate of Bridgewater-Emery High School with a keen interest in German immigration not only learned of one of Freeman’s most underappreciated treasures, but has also immersed himself in it.
Mews has spent the past few months working as one of two summer interns at the historical haven, putting in five-hour shifts every Tuesday and Thursday. Specifically, he is digging into the family history of Ludwig Deckert, whose two-story wood-framed home built in 1879 has become a trademark of the museum’s campus.
“I’ve just been looking up any and all records — doing my best to get the back story,” said Mews, who heard about Heritage Hall Museum & Archives while working at the Mead Cultural Education Center in Yankton while attending the University of South Dakota, where he earned a degree in history and has since completed his first year of graduate school. “There are still some questions we’re pondering, but we’re getting there.”
In addition to pursuit of his master’s degree, Mews is also after a museum and archives certificate, which is what spurred his interest in HHM&A — specifically, the internship museum leadership was seeking to bolster its quest for historical information and documentation.
“I am honestly surprised at how many documents are at the museum and just how far back they date,” he said. “There’s a lot of info and quite a lot of stories buried here.”
Marnette Hofer, executive director and archivist at HHM&A, says Mews is the right man for the right job at the right time.
“Ryan has gotten to do a deep dive into researching the Deckert house, the family, and their history — fun stuff but not something I was able to devote time to,” she said. “The information he is gathering will be available on an interactive kiosk inside the home.”
Mews isn’t the only intern who has spent summer days at HHM&A.
Madeline Hofer has also been working closely with the staff there, focusing primarily on inventory, videography and helping with the renovation and establishment of the New World Gallery.
The museum has recently switched to Square, a point-of-sale software system that can also be used for cataloguing and inventory. Helping museum staff become comfortable with Square is a good fit for the tech-savvy 2021 Freeman High School graduate who will be starting her second year at Dordt University in Sioux Center, Iowa this fall, and the video work she is doing is perfect for the college student who hopes to become a producer for movies and TV.
“Madeline has proven herself invaluable in a number of ways,” said Hofer. “She helped us transition to using a Square payment platform, she has been the go-to person for staffing weekends at the museum and she has been able to help her mom, Michelle, create artistic elements in our Natural World gallery. And she is using her technology skills to put together the Deckert House kiosk presentation and focus on several video interviews with folks whose stories are relevant to some of our exhibits.”
For Madeline, she is enjoying seeing the museum evolve from what she remembers growing up.
“When I was a little kid the museum seemed so big, and it still does,” she said. “But now I feel like it’s presented in a different way; it’s more accessible.”
Mews, too, has thoroughly enjoyed the constant discovery at the museum.
“I’m a bookworm so I really like the archives, but I also really like the museum itself,” he says. “All of the collections and objects from years and years ago — I’m blown away by it all.”
Marnette Hofer said the work that Ryan and Madeline have been conducting the past few months is invaluable.
“The things they have done and are doing have long been on our wish list, but with a part-time staff that is stretched thin already, they have gone on the back burner,” she said. “Having Ryan and Madeline here has meant that we can move some projects to the front of our list, and the impact of their few months here will be seen for many years ahead!”