Great River Children’s Museum Blog

Making a Documentary

What do you do with a former bank building while you wait for it to be transformed into a children’s museum? Make a documentary about a bankrobber, of course! The building was recently used by a crew of filmmakers to reenact the crimes of the Fishing Hat Bandit. According to the creators of the film:

“The Fishing Hat Bandit (working title) is a feature length documentary about the bank robbery spree of John Whitrock, also known as the Fishing Hat Bandit. Whitrock robbed 23 banks over the course of 18 months before being apprehended in Edina in January 2005. The film will include interviews with Whitrock, several of the bank tellers he victimized, the bank manager who helped catch the bandit, the two FBI lead investigators and others.”

“This film will not just focus on the Fishing Hat Bandit’s crimes, but also on the experiences of the bank tellers he victimized. Often, crime stories sensationalize the crime narrative with little regard for the victims. This film will tell a balanced story that illustrates the resilience of the many bank employees affected and includes a strong restorative justice theme.”

The timing of the project was perfect! The teller stations were still intact and hadn’t been used for museum purposes yet. The board happily agreed to share space with this creative project. It will be fun to see the final product!

History Museum Music Event

In collaboration with the Stearns History Museum, Great River Children’s Museum volunteers will offer the second in a series of family music events. The first featured Jane Ellison and Glen Palm and friends along with the Lullaby Singers who shared lullabies from various cultural backgrounds. It was a beautiful night for an outdoor concert!

On August 20th from 6:00 – 7:00pm at the Stearns History Museum, you can join board member Buddy King and his friends for interactive drumming. It is sure to be fun whether rain or shine!

Museum Planning

Work continues with the Vergeront Museum Planners. The Great River Children’s Museum Planning Team is meeting with them to create a museum plan including programming, exhibits and community outreach. The museum planning professionals are accelerating their pace to get our doors open as soon as possible.

They have been helping with programming ideas for our first phase, which is community engagement. It is common for emerging museums to go through what is sometimes called a traveling museum phase involving going out into the community with programming.  We also hope to open a preview space at our location in downtown for play, learning and exploration while building upgrades and exhibit construction takes place in other parts of the building.

Our space is laid out in a way that lends itself well to phased opening. It is essentially made up of three distinct buildings. In the southernmost building, we plan to create an opening in the wall that divides the two storefronts. With  modifications to meet fire code, we will be able to host up to 90 people in this section of our building. In this space, we will host round table discussions to gather community input and invite families to play and explore as we try out programming ideas and gather community input for the next phases of museum development.

Interactivity 2019

The theme of the Association of Children’s Museums conference in Denver, Colorado was Interactivity. Thousands of people came together from children’s museums around the world to share what they had learned in their work of promoting the power of play in the lives of children. Wednesday, May 8th was set aside for emerging museums like ours to focus on the major tasks involved in getting a museum up and running. Thursday, Friday and Saturday consisted of workshops, networking and vendors for emerging and established museums alike. Regardless of their stage of development, everyone was there to support each other’s success. We met many creative and generous people who were all pooling their talents to lift up the cause of playful learning. 

The keynote speaker, Temple Grandin, spoke of her experiences growing up with an autistic brain and how her unique way of thinking has helped her develop innovative solutions for problems in the cattle industry. She encouraged the work of children’s museums to provide places for children to play and explore the world in ways that will help them build brains that will solve real world problems now and in the future. She is an advocate for neurodiversity and is a shining example of why our world needs all kinds of minds.

Members of our group were able to connect with children’s museum professionals from Minnesota, many of whom are leaders in their field and have already been major supporters for this project. We were able to visit with some premier exhibit developers at the vendor fair from right here in our great state who are ready to get on board designing world class exhibits for our museum in Central Minnesota.

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/

Science Museum Tour

The Great River Children’s Museum Board and Facilities Committee was invited to tour the Science Museum of Minnesota on March 6th. They were able to go behind the scenes to learn about exhibit design and fabrication. The group was impressed by the size and scope of the work done by the 27 person staff who build exhibits for museums around the world. Each exhibit is custom designed and built for a particular museum with their unique community in mind. There are infinite possibilities for what could be done. The tour sparked the imagination of all who attended. The biggest takeaway for Buddy King was that it takes between six months and two years to bring an idea from development to display in the museum. This gave everyone a sense of the timeline for planning the remodel and exhibit spaces. The group left feeling very excited about the future of the Great River Children’s Museum.

Virtual Tour

The first installment of our video tour of the building is on YouTube. Monica Segura-Schwartz and Glen Palm walk through the banking section of the building, give a little history, and share their dreams for the future. Our building is really three separate buildings, so it takes quite a while to tour the whole thing. We look forward showing you a little more in future segments and introducing you to more of the board members. Stay tuned!

Milestone Volunteer Event

We held our first Volunteer Discovery Event on March 4th in the meeting room of the future museum. Volunteers were able to get an overview of the project from start to future. They toured our building to better appreciate all the space available for us. Everyone was able to connect and brainstorm about the possibilities for the museum. It was a successful event that will definitely be repeated. As we are planning community outreach events and the work that needs to be done on the building, we would like to utilize all the community volunteers we can. We know that many of you are wanting to be part of this exciting project. Be sure to sign up on our website to get notified of our next volunteer engagement event. 

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.