By Anna Jauhola
Three of Cindy Adams’s summers during high school piqued her interest in the history of Kittson County as she worked at the Kittson County museum through a summer youth program. Then she moved to California and said she’d never come back to her hometown of Lake Bronson.
But, in 1986, she and her husband, Fred, did return and Darlene Perry was retiring as director of the Kittson County Historical Museum.
“Gib Olson came over to my mom’s house and asked if I’d be interested in filling in to the end of the year until they hired someone else. I’m still waiting for the end of the year to come,” Adams said, laughing. “So, they ended up liking me and then they wanted to keep me here.”
Adams is modest about her 30-plus year career as director of the county’s museum. She said her success has come from those around her.
Despite that, those around her appreciate her constant hard work and dedication to the museum and the county’s history – so much so, several board members nominated her for a Lifetime Achievement Award through the Minnesota Alliance of Local History Museums, which she will receive in April. She is one of nine people in the state this year to receive the award.
“I got a letter in the mail,” Adams said, noting she had no idea this was happening. “And I thought, hmmm. … It’s a very nice honor.”
Although she is receiving the award, Adams gives much of the credit to her board members, volunteers and employees she’s had over the years.
In the beginning, Adams learned a lot about her job from Charlie Cederholm, Dean Younggren and Victor Johnson. Cederholm taught her how to do payroll and quarterly taxes by hand. Younggren was a historian and was her go-to guy about history in the Hallock area. Johnson was a former newspaper man for Lancaster and Lake Bronson who taught her the finer points about writing.
“I like to take in knowledge. I’ve learned a lot from the people around me,” she said. “In school, they never taught you what a township was, or a section. That’s all been self-taught. Computers, too.”
She mentioned, among others, her current employees Donny Hendrickson, Kathy Pederson and David Danielson. Hendrickson does maintenance around the museum and helps with other projects as Adams asks. Pederson is a whiz at genealogy research. Danielson helps during the summer with display and other work.
“I’ve also been fortunate to work with such good volunteers,” Adams said.
She mentioned Marcy Johnson, Janice Klein and Glen Brown, Vernon and Murial Johnson, and Mary Jane Goldstrand. These certainly aren’t all the volunteers she’s worked with, but some that came to mind during her conversation with this reporter. Vernon and Murial Johnson were instrumental, she said, for recording information from tombstones in all the cemeteries in Kittson County. They also sifted through all the displays, inventoried items and created books with that information for each display.
Marcy Johnson – no relation – continued their work with cemeteries and created a reference book about each cemetery in the county.
A good portion of Adams’s career has also depended upon workshops through the Minnesota State Historical Society, through which she continuously learned the basics of running a museum. Although these continue to be helpful, many who attend the workshops couldn’t necessarily identify with her same issues. Thus, she gathered with smaller museums in the northwest corner of Minnesota and helped form Minnesota’s Historic Northwest organization.
“Those colleagues have been more than helpful,” she said of the museum officials who are a part of the organization. “It’s nice to be able to visit with other museums who have the same issues we’re dealing with.”
Over the years, Adams has worked hard to keep the museum relevant and a big part of that has been the genealogy information kept within its walls. Helping people find information on their families is a favorite part of her job. She remembers her first search.
“I worked with someone who was searching for a family member. We were working together and were able to find a sister or a half-sister for this lady,” Adams said. “It turned out her sister lived only half an hour from her in California.”
Though the satisfaction of helping the woman was Adams’s reward, the lady wanted to thank her. Not long after the woman’s visit, Adams received a glass-blown angel in the mail, which she has kept to this day.
As evidenced by Adams’s interview, most of this article is about other people and how they have helped the museum. And that probably won’t change any time soon. Adams has no plans of retiring and humbly mentioned that as of May, she’ll be the longest-standing museum director in the state. That aside, she accepts the Lifetime Achievement Award in stride as, perhaps, another sign that she simply works with amazing people willing to help her preserve Kittson County’s history.
“I feel fortunate that people have allowed me to have this job for all this time, because I really enjoy it,” she said.
By Anna Jauhola