A book could be written about Jan Warner, who has provided over 50 years of service to the Morrison County Historical Society. Make that three books; one for her work with the Morrison County Historical Society, one for her community service outside MCHS, and one to capture her prodigious memory.
Those who’ve had the pleasure of conversation with Jan immediately notice how historical facts related to Morrison County and Minnesota history issue forth with ease. She seems to know everyone and can share who they are related to as though she has pedigree charts stored in her mind. It’s not uncommon for her to be able to recall where people lived within the county. She says her memory is genetic, passed down through the Nordlund line of her family. That’s Book One of the Jan Warner Story.
Book Two is Jan’s considerable volunteer service to the local community and to the state-wide museum field. Her interests lie primarily with community development, arts, environmental, and history organizations. While this list will likely not do justice to everything Jan has been involved with over the years, it’s a great starting point for anyone wishing to write her biography. (It is roughly in chronological order.)
Camp Fire – Camp Fire leader – won the Wahkon Award for Imaginative Leadership
Parent Teacher Association
Little Falls Concert Association
Summer Bible School Superintendent
First Lutheran Church & First United Church – member of various church committees
Minnesota Museum Educators Roundtable (became Minnesota Association of Museums) – founding member
Central Minnesota Historical Assembly – founding member, president
Minnesota Association of Collecting Agencies
Minnesota Aesthetic Environment Committee
Minnesota Natural Beauty Committee
Mississippi River Park Planning
Centennial Tree Planting Project – Bicentennial Chairperson for Morrison County
State Bicentennial Heritage Commission
State Historic Records Advisory Board
Gordon Rosenmeier Recognition Day – organizing committee
League of Women Voters – co-organizer, board member
Morrison County DFL
Minnesota Preservation Alliance – member of steering committee to form organization
Institute for Minnesota Archaeology – member of the original board of directors, was made a lifetime member
Chamber of Commerce ad hoc arts council
Morrison County Arts Association (became Great River Arts Association) – founding member
Morrison County Art Train Project
Great River Arts Association – helped to organize, president
Maple Island Park Dedication & White Way Lighting Ceremony – organizer
Musser Weyerhaeuser Task Force
Governor’s Design Team for the Little Falls Downtown Beautification Project
Lindbergh Drive Committee
Mississippi River Revival – board member, honored for her participation by MRR in 1990
Mississippi Headwaters Board
Cushing Women’s Club – president, vice president
Cushing Community Club – board member
Cass Gilbert Depot Committee – founding member, chair
Little Falls Tourism Committee – advisory member
Little Falls Tourism & Convention Bureau – appointed by mayor
Little Falls Convention & Visitors Bureau – founding member
Mayor’s Task Force 2014 (Little Falls)
Minnesota Alliance of Local History Museums – board member
Little Falls Heritage Preservation Commission – helped found the commission along with City Administrator Rich Carlson
Great River/Great Minds (became Great River/Great People) – founder
Site Seers – founder
West Side Improvement Association – founding member
Region 5 History Coalition – organizer
Region 5 Resilient Region – participant for Morrison County
The Artisans – founder
Little Falls School District facilities planning meetings
Like Father Pierz, who had a penchant for creating Catholic parishes in central Minnesota, Jan has a talent and passion for creating organizations, as is evident from the list.
In addition to her work with these organizations, anytime there was a community-wide planning effort, Jan would be there, along with her husband Art. While Jan often took a more public role in her service, Art was at her side putting in his own volunteer hours, primarily in research, analysis, and documentation (including writing articles and bylaws for organizations), providing support and taxi service for Jan.
For her community service, Jan won the first Outstanding Woman of the Year award in 1984 from the Little Falls Jaycee Women. Jan and Art were both honored with the Little Falls Exchange Club’s Book of Golden Deeds Award in 1994 for their extensive volunteer service.
It is difficult to gauge the effects of one’s service while in the middle of it, but they can be far-reaching. David Grabitske, manager of outreach services for the Minnesota Historical Society (MNHS), recently shared one of the long-term effects of Jan’s work. Jan was part of a small group of people on the State Bicentennial Heritage Commission who created a process for distributing grants to Minnesota communities interested in celebrating the United States bicentennial. This process was adopted by Nina Archabal, who was working in the Minnesota Historical Society’s grants office at the time and needed to update the organization’s grant process. (Nina later became director of MNHS.) The grant process Jan helped to develop has since been adapted to the history-related Legacy grants that are distributed by MNHS.
Book Two of Jan’s community service would make for an epic documentary, yet there’s been no mention of her greatest volunteer work, serving as executive director of the Morrison County Historical Society. That’s Book Three in Jan Warner’s Story.
Jan and Art got involved with the Morrison County Historical Society in 1963, during a time when the organization had become inactive and was being re-energized with the assistance of Arch Grahn from the Minnesota Historical Society. They became members that year, having consciously searched for an activity they could take part in together. Jan and Art immediately launched themselves into the daily life of the Society, which was housed in the basement of the Historic Morrison County Courthouse at the time. In 1965, Art was elected president and Jan was doing curatorial work for the organization. She slipped into the role of executive director fairly quickly, although wasn’t formally named as the director until 1977. What the general public may not be aware of is that Jan served most of her 50+ years with MCHS as a volunteer. She was paid a pittance of a salary for about 15 years of her time.
In her service to MCHS, Jan was the public face of the organization, giving countless tours and presenting county history on the radio and in the Society’s newsletter. She created exhibits, organized and packed artifacts, planned events, and managed volunteers and staff. She was involved in numerous preservation projects, helping to save the Cass Gilbert Depot, the Historic Morrison County Courthouse, and the Buckman Hotel. She worked to have architectural details preserved at the former Hennepin Paper Mill site, which has become Mill Park. She wrote the nomination for the Historic Courthouse to be placed in the National Register of Historic Places and was chair of a committee to gather history of the courthouse during Morrison County’s sesquicentennial.
With all that, the project she takes the most pride in was her part in the construction of The Charles A. Weyerhaeuser Memorial Museum, which opened in 1975. Jan was the local point-person, the day-to-day contact who worked between the architect, donors, contractors, MCHS board and members, and the general public to get this world-class museum built. She helped design the museum’s permanent exhibits, including writing the story of Morrison County through exhibit labels.
It is an understatement to say that Jan, through her tireless work with MCHS and throughout the community, has helped to shape the history of Morrison County. MCHS owes her and Art a huge debt of gratitude for their service.
Jan officially retired as executive director of MCHS on August 27, 2015. While she has no definite plans for retirement, she intends to continue her community involvement. Perhaps there is a Book Four in the Jan Warner Story.
Interim Executive Director
This article first appeared in the Morrison County Historical Society newsletter, Vol. 28, No. 4, 2015.