The names “Art and Jan Warner” are synonymous with the Morrison County Historical Society. They have earned this distinction through a commitment to the Society that has lasted over forty years. Art’s name appears on a membership role in 1963, within a year after the Historical Society was re-energized by Arch Grahn of the Minnesota Historical Society. Art was elected to his first stint as Society president in 1965. At the March 4 annual meeting that year, “Mrs. Warner proposed keeping a Scrap Book of photographs and articles of current events in Morrison County.” (MCHS minutes, March 4, 1965) Thus, began Art and Jan’s long association with the Society.
The Morrison County Historical Society was officially incorporated in 1936. It was an outgrowth of the Works Progress Administration, which put a handful of local people to work collecting the histories of long-time area families. The Society operated out of a dark, crowded basement space in the Historic Courthouse at the time Art and Jan joined. Jan set out to rearrange the space to display artifacts “to better advantage.” (MCHS minutes, Oct. 14, 1965) She suggested to the board that “this should be done with a view to making the museum more educational and interesting for school children.” (MCHS minutes, Oct. 14, 1965)
Art had a few goals of his own for his first year as president. He wanted the Society to work toward the preservation and marking of historic sites, create a booth for the County Fair, and establish a traveling exhibition. The minutes of the Society show that all of these goals were seriously pursued. One of the historic sites under discussion was Pike’s fort. The Society was concerned about the placement of the monument, the meeting minutes suggesting that its location was not ideal.
As the Society ramped up its activities and public services, it became apparent that a new museum building was needed. Members investigated a variety of possibilities and plans took years to reach fruition, culminating in the opening of The Charles A. Weyerhaeuser Memorial Museum thirty years ago, in 1975. Art and Jan were fully entrenched in the project, with Jan having to convey to contractors and construction crews that she certainly did know what she was talking about when it came to building construction. She also worked with John Low to design the exhibits and write exhibit labels. Meanwhile, Art concerned himself with such details as selling the first property purchased by the Society for the museum, getting insurance, and having the burglar alarm and telephone connected. At this time, he also continued his presidential duties, having served all but one year in this office between 1965 and 1975.
The museum needed a director, but a qualified one could not be found. In June, 1975, Sr. Mary Venard Niehaus, secretary of the Society, suggested that the position be opened to Jan, because she had already been acting in this capacity. She declined, but continued directing day-to-day activities at the museum. She was not officially named as Museum Director until sometime in 1977.
Art and Jan are inseparable. They initially joined the Historical Society because it was an activity they could share, without being split into work groups by gender. They weren’t looking to escape each other’s company as other married couples sometimes do. To the great benefit of the Historical Society, they have complemented each other’s talents beautifully.
Jan has served as the public face of the museum, speaking to innumerable groups; presenting local history on Partyline and in the Society’s newsletter; leading the charge to save important historic sites; directing interns, volunteers, and staff; and serving on countless state-wide boards and committees. Behind the scenes, she has created exhibits, packed and organized artifacts and archival materials, and dreamed up all sorts of events, which she loves to revolve around themes. She could have been a party planner . . . maybe, when she retires.
Anyone who knows Art realizes that he is not particularly comfortable with speaking in front of people. With much throat-clearing and a soft-spoken demeanor, he does a fine job of it. He loves detail and has worked tirelessly on the legalities of operating the Society, along with keeping close attention to the organization’s finances. He is fond of creating spreadsheets and budget reports that easily show the staff and board how money moves in the organization. Art also makes a great chauffeur for Jan.
Working together, Art and Jan have turned The Charles A. Weyerhaeuser Memorial Museum into a world-class facility, one that exceeds people’s expectations of county historical societies. It is their love of each other and local history that have made it so.
By Mary Warner
Copyright 2005, Morrison County Historical Society