Erickson celebrates five years with Stevens County Historical Society and Museum

The Stevens County Historical Society and Museum gained a new executive director five years ago when Cam Erickson joined the team on Oct. 1, 2018. 

Originally from Verndale, Erickson lived in southern Minnesota for at least 25 years before relocating to Morris when she married Deron Erickson. Erickson has a background of teaching, and owning her own boutique, bringing unique experience to her role at the museum, especially as a lifelong history enthusiast. 

When Cam began her role at the museum, some changes she knew needed to be made were adding the ability to take credit and debit cards as payment, and updating the website to be more accessible and user-friendly.

“To do that, I knew we needed to have a real logo,” says Erickson. She turned to her son-in-law, Kevin Will, to design the logo.

Backstreet Media in Benson also became a crucial partner to the museum – they have helped with web design, exhibit design, as well as various other projects such as the informational panels used in the exhibits and the large logo sign behind the front desk. 

Updating and revamping the gift shop located in the museum was another goal of Erickson’s, and with the ability to accept credit and debit card payments, it was more convenient than ever. 

At the onset of her hire, one of the most pressing matters was the research and creation of the Story of Stevens County exhibit that was set to premiere in 2022 for the 150th anniversary of the establishment of Stevens County. The partnership with Amanda Beyer of Backstreet Media became vital in the design of this permanent exhibit. Beyer created a three-dimensional map of Wadsworth Trail, and the panels used to display images and information in the exhibit. 

Similarly, non-permanent exhibits such as the 100-year Anniversary of the Stevens County Historical Society and Museum exhibit that wrapped up in November of 2022 and the current 1970s in Stevens County exhibit that will be on display through 2024 feature panels that were created by Backstreet Media. 

The creation of exhibits takes an entire year. About nine months are dedicated to research, and three to design and creation, meaning that all hands must be on deck when an exhibit is being worked on. 

In 2022, the museum celebrated its 100-year anniversary, and part of the celebration was to remain open later in the evenings every Thursday to give more people the chance to visit. While this was a great way to celebrate their centennial, finding staff and volunteers to cover the later shift wasn’t sustainable as a permanent option, especially when you couldn’t guarantee the amount of foot traffic that would be received every week.

Erickson noticed that though every Thursday night may not have been busy, the Thursday evenings that also had events planned were always well attended. Beginning in 2023, Erickson decided to have one Thursday each month that the museum would remain open until 8 p.m. and host an event. The event is different every time, and it gives people an opportunity to enjoy the exhibits the museum has to offer at the same time. Events have included stories shared by Paul Watzke and presentations of trunks from the collection and the people behind them. Each Thursday event has varied in topic, and Erickson says that she is happy to hear any ideas for Thursday night events to plan for 2024.

In her half-decade with the historical society, Erickson has taken part in the research and creation of three exhibits, as well as the implementation of new procedures, a new website, an updated gift shop, and research and development of new walking tours, but she is far from finished with her work.

Erickson has been working on an idea to host events outside of the museum, and to incorporate using actors to portray historical figures from our county for events to present history in the first person. One such idea is for an event called Summer in the Cemetery that would explore the cemeteries of Stevens County, and have actors portraying some of the individuals interred there to help educate about their history. This would help create a unique program and be informative and personal for attendees. Erickson is passionate about the people behind the history, and wants to create connections to the individuals that lived and worked in Stevens County.

2024 will also bring with it the research and design of a new exhibit that will premiere in 2025, which will be announced at a later date. 

The Historical Society always has events and exhibits going on, and there are many different ways to keep up including catching Museum Moments on Thursday mornings on KMRS-KKOK, and Facebook, but the best way to stay informed is by becoming a member. There are different membership tiers available, all with their own perks, but every member of the Historical Society is mailed a bi-monthly newsletter that contains all of the goings on at the museum.

Having a membership is also the best and most consistent way to support the museum, Erickson says. There is no fee to visit the museum and experience the events and displays, and donations and membership dues are a large part of what makes that possible.

Erickson says that she wants the community to know that the historical society and museum are a resource for all in the community. Obituaries, newspapers, census information, years old council minutes, polio records, scrapbooks for organizations that no longer exist, as well as over 40,000 artifacts. 

“One thing that worries me for the future is having enough photographs,” adds Erickson. There arean’t as many physical photographs printed any more, and those are an integral part of any museum collection. Erickson urges community members to take photographs of every day events, big and small, to record the history that happens daily. Businesses taking photos of their employees in front of their store on Crazy Days, or of someone standing next to a large snow drift were examples provided.

The historical society is happy to provide research assistance to anyone interested in genealogy or learning more about the history of Stevens County. If given a heads up about a research request, researchers can take the time to gather information for you and have it ready when you arrive to provide a more educational and quality experience. 

Donations of artifacts and items to the museum are welcomed but do come with some guidelines. The number one thing to keep in mind is that the item has to have a Stevens County story associated with it. An item that was owned by someone who once lived in Stevens County is not enough to meet the criteria, however, if it has significant value to the community it will be considered. The donation must also be in good condition without mold or mildew. When making a donation, a gift agreement will also be signed stating that the item donated will not be returned to the donor under any circumstances. If you are considering donating an item, but are on the fence it is best to wait until you are sure you are ready to part with it.