Great River Children’s Museum Blog

Inspiring Generosity

We are incredibly thankful for the generosity of Mike and Karel Helgeson who have stepped up to help launch the Great River Children’s Museum. The Helgeson’s donations have been extremely timely and impactful, enabling the board to sign off on work with consultants, architects and museum planners with confidence. The drawings provided by these professionals will help everyone rally together toward a purpose we can clearly see. Karel’s vision and faith in the people of Central Minnesota to join together in support of this museum are inspirational!

Karel Helgeson
Karel Helgeson

Karel has been a member of the board since the summer of 2018. At the start of this year, she began functioning as secretary. Her creativity and experience working on the launch of GREAT Theater’s new Helgeson Learning Lab theater have been highly valuable. Karel recently arranged for the board and planning group to visit the Science Museum of Minnesota where her sister works in the exhibit building area. The experience of watching exhibits be created is another way that she has helped make the mission of the Great River Children’s Museum more tangible.

Donuts to the Capitol

Greg Reigstad and Sara McKeever took a box of Cold Spring Bakery goods down to the state Capitol where they met up with Rep. Dan Wolgamott. Their task was to convince the Legacy Finance Committee to advance a bill requesting $525,000 for museum development. The baked goods fulfilled a tradition that calls for treats to be served by a congressperson presenting their first bill in committee. As a father of young children, Rep. Wolgamott was able to add a personal touch as he spoke about why he put forth this bill. Sara talked about her experience as a kindergarten teacher, then gave a presentation explaining the history of this project and what we hope to accomplish in the future. Greg spoke from the perspective of a grandfather as he fielded questions and provided some comic relief. We enjoyed the opportunity to share our project and hope to see funds appropriated from the Arts and Culture Legacy Fund over the course of the next two biennium.

This funding would go a long way toward renovating the building to make it suitable for public events and creating exhibit spaces on the main floor. You can help by contacting your legislators and letting them know you would like them to support H.F. 396, authored by both Dan Wolgamott and Tama Theis. Please reach out to your senators as well. Thanks to the work of Senator Jerry Relph who introduced S.F. 645, we will have the chance to present our case to the Senate committee in early April. Follow the progress of these two bills at https://www.house.leg.state.mn.us/

Our Friends at SCHEELS

A wonderful year-end surprise came to our PayPal account thanks to everyone at the St. Cloud SCHEELS store. The Great River Children’s Museum received a generous donation via the museum’s website. Chris Theisen, Assistant Store Leader, shared with us that, “SCHEELS is very happy to provide this donation. Being familiar with how Liberty donated the building really caught our eye, and we just wanted to be a part of what we agree will make a great addition to our community.” 

It is touching when people take the initiative to improve their community in whatever ways they are able. We all can be inspired by this company’s focus on community involvement.

Development Timeline

The museum project began in 2012 at the dining room table of Glen Palm and Jane Ellison. It has gone through many stages in its evolution. Now, as it begins to take on physical form at the downtown location, let us take a look back at the many milestones along the way.

2012

  • Established Great River Children’s Exploratorium as a 501c3
  • Met with community leaders/groups

2014

  • Joined the Association of Children’s Museums as an emerging museum
  • Studied children’s museums in similar sized midwest communities
  • Completed a needs assessment

2016

  • Collaborated with CentraCare Health System to bring the Healthyville exhibit to the Stearns History Museum

2017

  • Created a planning team
  • Discussed a second pop-up exhibit in collaboration with early childhood programs

2018

  • Met with Minnesota Children’s Museum staff and toured $30 million expansion
  • Attended webinar with SCSU faculty/staff about collaboration between children’s museums & universities
  • Explored building sites for a future location
  • Recruited and expanded board membership to 14 members
  • Ran a successful matching campaign for a $25,000 grant
  • Formed committees and refined the mission statement during a board retreat
  • Met with museum planners Jeanne Vergeront and Jim Roe
  • Changed name to Great River Children’s Museum
  • Finalized building donation by Liberty Bank in downtown St. Cloud

2019

  • Legislation introduced for Legacy funding

Contact your representatives and ask them to support HF396 which provides funding for the Great River Children’s Museum. This bill was authored by Dan Wolgamott and Tama Theis. The companion bill in the senate is SF645 and was introduced by Senator Jerry Relph.

Do You Want to Build a Snowman?

At this time of year and this stage in our project, it seemed appropriate to share our board update in the form of a metaphor.

If a children’s museum were a snowman…

If a children’s museum were a snowman, we would be finished rolling the biggest of the snowballs. Our organization is being led by a strong board with a shared mission, which makes for a solid foundation. We also have a physical foundation in our solid, historic downtown building.

At this point, we are gathering snow for the midsection, the heart of the organization, which is our community. We are bringing on new people like IT experts, architects, and marketing specialists to help in creating a space where families will gather like so many snowflakes, all unique but united in play.

The snowball for the head is just beginning to come together. It is always the quickest and easiest to roll, but it is also a challenge to lift up to the top and is critical to the finished product. What’s a snowman without a head? A museum without a director? The search is beginning.

The final step of dressing up our snowman will involve many decisions. Will our snowman wear a beret or a top hat? Is it going to have buttons and if so how many? We have a board visioning session coming in February. This will be the next big step in guiding our work. We look forward to getting the community’s input on the many choices ahead.

We have a great team all pitching in together and we are having a blast. Rolling snowballs and stacking them on top of each other takes a lot of muscles all pushing and lifting in unison. Board members, consultants, volunteers, and donors in our community can all take pride in our accomplishments as the finished product takes shape.

We Want Mail

We have a mailbox! The Great River Children’s Museum will be receiving bills and, we hope, donations at the new location. It would bring us joy to receive your family or organization’s holiday photo card. Seeing supporters’ faces will encourage our board and community members as they work to develop a place for children and their caring adults to discover, explore, and be inspired through the extraordinary power of play. We would also welcome notes of support with ideas for activities and exhibits you would like to see in the museum.  Address all mail to:

Great River Children’s Museum
111 7th Avenue South
St. Cloud, MN 56301

Everyone at the Great River Children’s Museum hopes you and your loved ones enjoy many play-filled moments together this holiday season!

Our Busy Board

The Great River Children’s Museum Board of Directors has had an extremely busy month. From board development to moving day, it has been several weeks of milestone events. You can learn more about our board members here.

Nov. 17 – The board attended a retreat facilitated by Linda Holliday and Kathy Gaalswyk of Impact Minnesota. During the retreat they were able to learn about board member roles, review bylaws, define their mission and values, and form committees. The committees are working groups including community engagement, fund development, finance, facilities and personnel. There will be a follow-up retreat coming early next year.

Nov. 28 – Mark Bragelman, Robin Gohman and other representatives from Liberty Bank brought our group on a tour of the Great River Children’s Museum’s soon-to-be home. Museum planners Jeanne Vergeront and Jim Roe met with the board and planning group to share their ideas about how the building could be used to bring community members inside to join in the museum planning process and play together. It was exciting to dream about using this new space.

Dec. 4 – Closing day! Board members Glen Palm, Greg Reigstad and Becky Coborn were present for the signing of the documents and the handing over of the codes and keys.

Since that day, it has been fun exploring the building, discovering which key fits in which lock and which code opens which door. There has also been the work of moving in, with furniture that was donated by Coborn’s, Inc. Thanks to a Thrivent Action Team, we were able to purchase paper products and other supplies needed to host our volunteer board and committees for work in our new space. After a tour with the fire marshall, the facilities committee has a list of initial work that needs to take place in the building in order to safely host family friendly events.

Dec. 10 – The Great River Children’s Museum Board of Directors held its first meeting in the new location. The results of the board retreat were voted on and made official. The board has grown over the past six months from three voting members to fourteen. Solidifying the foundational documents and board structure has been a major focus of the board’s most recent time together.

The Children Have Spoken

St. Cloud Unschooling Network recently reached out to the Great River Children’s Museum through their leader Mandy Spiczka with exciting news. They had heard about a non-profit group bringing a children’s museum to the area and voted to give their annual fundraising dollars to the Great River Children’s Museum! The group of homeschooling friends, which includes children from babies to teens as well as their parents, meets on a regular basis at the Great River Regional Library in St. Cloud, another community organization the group has elected to support in the past.

Every year the students and parents in the group use their talents to create arts and crafts which they sell to other group members, friends and family during their holiday market. They are able to help each other do their holiday shopping while learning a wide array of academic and life skills. When board members Glen Palm and Sara McKeever arrived for the presentation of the donation, the sale was wrapping up and the children were happily playing.

The parents expressed their excitement about the museum project. They wanted to support an organization that shares their values of creating space in children’s lives for learning through play and the importance of adults creating, exploring and discovering the world alongside children. We were humbled and honored by their gift of $355.25! The funds will be used to prepare space in the new building where community members can come to plan and dream about the museum we will create together.

Our Newest Future Member

Congratulations go out to Vincent and Cassie Miles on the birth of their baby boy, Desmond. He has been nominated to receive the first museum membership by several of our board members. Vincent, owner of Miles Psychological Services, joined the board of the Great River Children’s Museum in April of this year. His wife, Cassie, has served on the GREAT Theater board and he was looking for a way to give back to the community as well. When he heard about the children’s museum project, he was intrigued by the opportunity to get involved on the ground floor of such an exciting project. The idea of bringing a children’s museum to town that his own son would be able to enjoy only added to the appeal.

Vincent has been a great asset to the project. As a business owner, he brings an understanding of many aspects of operations from managing to marketing. As a psychologist, he understands people and the benefits a children’s museum brings to the community. By raising the quality of life for families in the area, we bring a higher level of psychological well being to everyone. This is a resource that will be available for him to share with his clients in his practice. In Vincent’s words, “A local children’s museum presents an extraordinary opportunity to bring our community together, promoting learning through curiosity, and ultimately strengthening our humanity.”

New Name!

As you may have noticed, the Great River Children’s Exploratorium is now officially the Great River Children’s Museum! The board voted unanimously at the October 15th meeting to change the name after being approached by The Exploratorium in San Francisco. The word exploratorium is trademarked by this museum and when we started getting media attention for our project, they reached out to let us know we were not able to use the name.

The board agreed that we wanted to keep Great River as part of our identity because of the importance of the Mississippi River in our region. We look forward to educating people about the river through an indoor, interactive water play feature. We hope it will be a cornerstone exhibit.

We agreed that Children’s Museum was the best way to describe us. A children’s museum is something that many people are familiar with and associate with the high quality programming we plan to deliver. For those who don’t know what a children’s museum is, we look forward to showing them a place for playful, hands-on learning geared toward children ages zero to ten and appealing to the child in all of us.

The name change process will continue over the next several weeks. During this time you may notice the change reflected in our website, social media and printed materials. We are thankful to receive notice of this issue early in the project, while the financial impact of this shift is still very minimal. Overall, having a name that our entire board has agreed upon will be a positive for the organization once the transition is complete.