Great River Children’s Museum is excited to welcome its newest hire, Kylie Conover!
Kylie will be instrumental in helping us fulfill our mission of Opening Worlds as the Program and Outreach Manager.
This is a key position as Great River Children’s Museum continues to raise funds for our 25,000-square-foot renovation and to engage with the community and get everyone excited about a children’s museum in Central Minnesota.
We were able to hire Kylie thanks to Legacy Funds from the Minnesota Humanities Center and the Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund that was created with the vote of the people of Minnesota on November 4, 2008.
For the last few weeks, Kylie has been getting acquainted with Board members and volunteers of Great River Children’s Museum and has been having meetings with organizations that serve the families of the greater St. Cloud area. She believes that museums are for everyone and works hard to ensure that the programming she develops is accessible to as many folks as possible.
In normal circumstances, Kylie would be knee deep in crafting materials and excitedly sharing information about what a comet is made up of or looking at the details of the inside of a flower, but the COVID pandemic is forcing all of us to approach things a little differently.
She is looking forward to when the museum will be able to do more in-person activities and programming.
“I am so pleased to be joining Great River Children’s Museum at the very beginning,” Kylie said. “It allows me to ensure that the programs that I am creating for the museum are not only fun and educational but also relevant to the people of St. Cloud and all of Central Minnesota.”
Kylie hails from Reno, Nevada but she is no stranger to the Midwest.
She attended the University of South Dakota where she obtained her Master’s Degree in history with a certificate in museum and archival studies. She is an AmeriCorps VISTA alumni where she was a volunteer outreach coordinator for a small nonprofit in Reno.
Kylie brings with her extensive knowledge of the inner workings of a museum. She worked a year and a half at a hands-on science center as a museum educator, creating programming and demonstrations that appealed to all of the visitors.
The move to Minnesota is a return home for her husband who is from Minneapolis. When Kylie is not working she is an avid runner and explorer of the outdoors with her border collie, Aspen.
Work continues to bring an exciting new children’s museum to downtown St. Cloud, MN and today the Great River Children’s Museum announced that another milestone had been reached with the hiring of Cassandra (Cassie) Miles as Executive Director. The Executive Director salary is funded in part with money from the Minnesota Humanities Center and the Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund that was created with the vote of the people of Minnesota on November 4, 2008.
It’s been four weeks since Cassie stepped into the Executive Director role and her new, temporary office at 111 7th Avenue South. The building, which was donated by Liberty Bank in September of 2018, is quiet now as COVID-19 has halted some of the community engagement work that launched earlier in the year. Regardless, Cassie is energized and ready to lead the project forward. “I am really excited to have a part in creating an imaginative space where families from around Central Minnesota can come to connect, play, explore and discover. There’s really nothing cooler than making a shared dream come to life and I get to work alongside a community that I love and a fantastic Board of Directors and volunteers to do just that! ”
While the community has quieted some over the last few months, Great River Children’s Museum continues to make progress on their plans to build a children’s museum that will serve the central Minnesota region. Before the initial stay-at-home order was issued, the museum’s board and volunteers had completed initial pre-design work with architects, launched Play Explore Learn Labs, began holding Roundtable discussions with various community groups, and had begun a quiet phase of fundraising. Now, although COVID-19 has caused a disruption, the Board of Directors continues to find ways to pivot where needed and tackle some of the many behind the scenes projects on their plate. For example, while the in-person Play Explore Learn Labs had to be put on hold, the Family Fun Club was born in its place to create activities that would allow families to engage with the museum outside and from their homes. Larger projects like creating detailed exhibit descriptions, meeting with design consultants, capping unused wells, taking soil samples and general preparations for a large remodel project all continued. As other organizations were working to find ways to reopen, the Great River Children’s Museum Board realized that delaying the hiring of an Executive Director would mean pushing a pause button on something that the community is looking forward to and that just didn’t feel like the right decision for the families that the museum will welcome through the doors in the future.
“We are excited to announce the arrival of our new Executive Director Cassie Miles,” said Board Chair Glen Palm.
“A full time Director will help us strategically focus our efforts so we can achieve the maximum benefit from all the work our volunteers are doing and move closer to our goal of opening the Great River Children’s Museum to serve Central Minnesota.”
Cassie herself was born and raised in Central Minnesota, just outside of Annandale. She went to the Carlson School of Management at the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities campus where she earned her BSB in Finance and BSB in Entrepreneurial Management. She brings her background in the financial sector and her love for locally owned establishments to her new role. She also brings her experience as a mother to an almost 2 year old son who inspires her and reminds her daily that children need safe imaginative spaces to thrive.
Walking into the space that is the future home of the Great River Children’s Museum has the feeling of something coming full circle for Cassie. “I grew up spending a lot of time at my uncle’s hobby farm and my career started at a bank in Chicago after college. I just think it’s fitting that I get to walk into a building that used to house a hatchery and a bank and make plans for the structure to evolve into something entirely different and wonderful.” Hiring an Executive Director was just one big step in a series of big steps. The Great River Children’s Museum will continue the quiet phase of raising capital and talking to the community about their hopes and visions for the future museum. Everyone involved with the project knows that taking it day-by-day is necessary when there are a lot of unanswerable questions, but that doesn’t stop them from preparing for the future. “There is a lot going on in the world that we need to pay attention to and learn from each and every day,” Cassie commented. “It can be overwhelming, but it isn’t hard to push ahead with the children’s museum work. Economically, it is going to provide a boost to aid regional recovery from downturns caused by the pandemic. Socially and emotionally, it gives me and everyone else something to look forward to and a place where joy can be experienced and expressed. All we have to do is think about the many smiling faces that will walk through the door of the children’s museum that the community will build together. It’s going to be incredible.”
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!
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.
Established Great River Children’s Exploratorium as a 501c3
Met with community leaders/groups
Joined the Association of Children’s Museums as an emerging museum
Studied children’s museums in similar sized midwest communities
Completed a needs assessment
Collaborated with CentraCare Health System to bring the Healthyville exhibit to the Stearns History Museum
Created a planning team
Discussed a second pop-up exhibit in collaboration with early childhood programs
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
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.
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.
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.
Becky Coborn is one of the first people to join the children’s museum project. In 2013, she began working as a licensed parent educator in ECFE (Early Childhood Family Education) in Sauk Rapids-Rice School District. Her own children were grown and flown from the nest and she felt compelled to invest in the children of her community, their parents and families. She completed her master’s degree in Child and Family Studies from St. Cloud State University in 2016. For her thesis project, Becky researched the impact of children’s museums on parents in communities. She found that children’s museums help parents to better understand child development and how to encourage their child’s learning.
Becky has a deep love for the St. Cloud area and a desire to see our community thrive. While raising her children, she served as a volunteer in many different capacities at Sacred Heart Elementary School, Cathedral High School, College of St. Benedict and St. John’s University. She strongly believes that building a children’s museum is the next best step for Central Minnesota.
Becky understands that the early years are a crucial stage in a child’s growth and development. Having a place for families to come where kids can be free to play, explore and try new skills in a safe, rich learning environment will have long-term benefits to the entire community. She hopes to see parents connecting with their children through the museum experience and gaining knowledge about child development. When families grow stronger, communities grow stronger.
We are doing something new in central Minnesota! Opening a children’s museum is a large and complicated feat. It was begun several years ago with the dream of Glen Palm.
Glen retired in 2013 from his position as chair of the Child and Family Studies department at St. Cloud State University where he spent his career teaching parenting education, supervising students, and writing about parent education and fatherhood. He is a longtime early childhood advocate in the St. Cloud Area. He originally founded Super Saturdays for dads and young children in District 742, a program that continues today. If you hear Glen joke that he “just got out of prison,” it is because of his important work with incarcerated fathers at the Minnesota Correctional Facility in St. Cloud.
Through a children’s museum, Glen sees a chance to fill a need in the community for a safe place for children and families to practice 21st century skills such as creativity, problem solving, teamwork and resilience in a playful atmosphere. He also sees it as a community project that will unify people from diverse backgrounds throughout the St. Cloud area. Upon his retirement from SCSU, he set about tackling early tasks such as gathering a small team of dedicated volunteers, establishing a non-profit organization, orchestrating community studies, and outlining a business plan. The location search has taken some time, but now appears to be nearing completion.
With the finalization of a location will come a host of new challenges to be tackled. Glen and his growing team will approach each obstacle with the playful, creative spirit born in each of us in early childhood. The prospect of getting the whole community involved in creating a safe place for children to be children is exciting and energizing.