From poultry to play, family connection continues within our walls

Don Helgeson and Sue Shepard have announced a leadership gift to Great River Children’s Museum for sponsorship of the Temporary Gallery. A space for traveling exhibits, expanded programming, and innumerable projects and works of art from around Central Minnesota to be shared! 

The Gallery is an important feature of the future children’s museum. It is especially important to Don and Sue because, like the building that Great River Children’s Museum resides in, it will always be changing and evolving into something different. Our building in downtown St. Cloud has been everything from a chicken hatchery to an athletic center. The one constant has been the Helgeson family’s connection to this space. 

The building began as Jack Frost Hatchery and Liberty Loan and Thrift founded in 1934 by Don’s father, Elmer “Mike” Helgeson. Mike wanted to help the farmers in the area by creating finance solutions. This would allow farmers to purchase chicks on installment payment plans. At the time it was a revolutionary way of doing business and proved to be very successful. By 1939, Liberty Loan and Thrift expanded to begin financing cars and farm machinery.

Circa 1941

Before his graduation in 1950 from what was then known as St. Cloud State Teachers College, Don decided that he would like to take over his father’s hatchery. He switched his focus and completed courses relating to farming and animals, specifically poultry. 

Don became a manager at the hatchery and was given opportunities to make important decisions. It was upon his suggestion that his father bought a farm near Mille Lacs Lake to start breeding chickens, feeding their own supply line. By the 1970’s, Don and his brother Jerry were partners and co-owners of the hatchery and loan business and their hard work saw the business evolve and the facility become a space used for a multitude of purposes.

In 1993 Don’s son, Michael (“Mike”) Helgeson, became CEO of the family business. In 2018 Liberty Bank moved to a new location and donated their downtown headquarters to the Great River Children’s Museum project for the benefit of the entire Central Minnesota community. Mike and his wife Karel Helgeson have served, and do serve, on the Board and Committees of Great River Children’s Museum and so it goes that the building remains a part of the wonderful Helgeson family legacy. 

“The Liberty building represents our family’s legacy and passions intersecting: the chicken business, banking business, appreciation and support for the arts, and giving back to the community.” -Don Helgeson in his book Gratitude.

We are incredibly grateful and excited that Don and Sue have chosen to play such an instrumental role in the transformation of our beautiful 111 7th Ave S. structure!

Experimenting with Imaginative Play at Camp Beyond

By Kylie Conover, Program & Outreach Manager

As the museum begins to take shape through the exhibit design process, so too are the programming components of the museum.

Museums are so much more than just the building and the exhibits themselves. Great River Children’s Museum plans on having additional, hands-on learning experiences including field trips and summer camps. 

At the beginning of August I was able to run a pilot summer camp program. I named this experiment Camp Beyond, because what I wanted was us to think past what traditional summer camps at museums often look like. I combined three different elements together for the curriculum of Camp Beyond; practicing social emotional learning skills, hands-ons imaginative play, and TableTop Role Playing Games.

What resulted was a week of absolute joy as I watched a group of campers work together through a series of challenges that culminated in overcoming a challenge and a pizza party at the park!

Over the course of the week GRCM hosted 10 Adventurers (campers), they were broken into groups of five and were led through various activities by their Adventure Guides (camp staff). The various activities included building a world narrative together, making a character and costume, building a cardboard fort, and lastly defeating the bad guy plaguing their world. 

According to our surveys, the day our adventurers got to create their hero personas was a huge highlight for them. Not only did they create their character, they were given the freedom to use cardboard, glue, fabric, and other materials to make a costume to become that character. To wrap up that day each camper got to use a program which allowed for them to create a 3-D model of their character which then got printed on our 3-D printer. 

A key part of Camp Beyond was providing a sense of community and agency among the Adventurers. At the beginning of the week we presented an open door policy, simply stated: If you need to take a moment (or many moments) away from the group you could. There was a space provided with a set of alternative activities that allowed for the camper to take time away if they needed it. This open door policy is a part of a toolkit that allows for each camper to have more agency throughout the programming. 

Ultimately, Camp Beyond was received favorably with requests from campers if they can come back and continue to be involved. I certainly can’t thank my adventurers and their adults more than I already have because they took a chance on a new camp at a not yet open museum.