It was in the spring of 2019 when friends of the McLeod County Historical Society and Museum gathered for a groundbreaking ceremony for its new 4,400 square foot expansion project. Fast forward two years, and now is the time to honor the generosity of Vern and Alyce Steffel with a big dedication party. On your agenda, 4:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m., Thursday, May 20, for an evening of festivities.
“There is no doubt that COVID-19 has had an impact on our attendance this year, but we are finally starting to see a slight increase in the number of visitors,” said Brian Haines, executive director of the museum.
The opening of the Steffel wing is an opportunity to welcome the public to the museum. The festivities begin at 4.30 p.m. with a signing session. Fans of Haines’ More to the Story columns in The Leader will enjoy “Where the Big Woods Meet the Prairie: A Collection of Short Stories About McLeod County”. Artist David Wegscheid was hired to provide illustrations. Haines and Wegscheid will sign their book, and part of the profits will go to the historical society.
“The book has sold wonderfully,” Haines said. “We started with 250 copies and we’re almost sold out. We even had to ship some outside of Minnesota – to California, Pennsylvania, Colorado, to name a few. we have enough copies left for signing. “
The next program of the evening is the inauguration of the new wing at 5:30 pm This event takes place 33 years and a few weeks before the original inauguration of the museum building on May 22, 1988.
While the original building was made possible through donations large and small, the Vern and Alyce Steffel wing is due to a donation from the couple.
“I met Vern Steffel in the summer of 2018,” Haines recalls. “He lived a very interesting life and wanted to leave a legacy behind him. He was in talks with other museums about preserving his heritage and ultimately chose the McLeod County Historical Society. With the help of dedicated volunteers, we came up with some preliminary designs as well as cost estimates. We presented this to Vern for his review and he enthusiastically agreed to fund an expansion of the museum. “
The enlarged exhibition space presents information about Vern Steffel. He was the conductor of the Whoopee John Orchestra, a Korean War veteran and an inventor. Several of his notable inventions / creations will be on display, as well as his collection of Whoopee John memorabilia.
According to Haines, the general theme of the addition is the history of farming in McLeod County.
“Like Vern Steffel, an extremely large number of people in McLeod County have a connection to agriculture,” he said. “That being the case, we built an old-fashioned half-timbered barn inside the museum with many agricultural artefacts that would have been used in the early to mid-20th century.”
Former museum visitors may recall a barn in the old exhibition hall. Haines wanted to move the old barn to the new wing. It was one of the volunteers who came up with the idea to build a new barn the same way it would have been years ago. He designed it and directed its construction.
“I also helped,” Haines joked. “My job was to support the wall and provide emotional support. Seriously, the barn shows not only how these buildings were constructed, but also how they were used and how those very early barns housed more than a horse, but a small number of different farm animals. “
Enhancing the theme of agriculture, Wegschied was commissioned to paint a large mural depicting Les Kouba’s painting, “Corn Pickin ‘in the 1930’s”. While many Kouba paintings combine the outdoors and agriculture, Haines chose this specific painting because it puts agriculture at the forefront of wildlife.
“I guess it’s just one of those paintings that can really put the viewer in the picture, so to speak,” he said. “I thought that said a lot about the history of farming in the county.”
The mural will be unveiled to the public after the inauguration. This is Wegscheid’s second Kouba mural. The first, “By the Country Store”, can be seen on the Ace Hardware building in downtown Hutchinson. If you’ve been to this unveiling, you know Wegscheid is going for the big unveiling.
Comparing the two murals, the artist said the museum mural was slower to paint due to its complexity.
“The process was basically the same, because Kouba’s style / process is the same for all of his artwork, I found,” Wegscheid said. “The ‘Corn Pickin’ mural in the 1930s’ was much more in-depth and interesting – how he layered eight layers of perspective coming out of the viewer. It was a lot of fun to paint. For example, pheasants are practically the size of each other. horses and much taller than barns. It has corn cobs which are 1 inch long wide and are wave, then there is an 8 inch husk of corn and a stalk right in your face. Its ability to directing a scene in great depth and great perspective is so much fun to see at the size I have reproduced it at – all of the detail and the feeling of being there becomes so much more evident and real. “
Wegscheid called the mural a “token of respect to Les C. Kouba”.
In addition to the mural, the wall of blocks on which it hangs is decorated with “legacy blocks”, which pay homage to the farmers and historic farms of McLeod County. These blocks are available for individual purchase in order to preserve the legacy of current farms or those that existed long ago.
Continuing the theme of agriculture, the new wood-frame barn with plank and slatted siding. Haines called the project “really exciting and should be a big draw for the museum.”
“Once we decided to do an agricultural show in the new wing, I wanted to build a kind of barn at the back,” he said. “I spoke with one of our volunteers, Dave Hormann, and gave him a rough sketch of what I had in mind. He took these sketches home and came back with this spectacular drawing of a barn. old-fashioned built with pegs. “
While it was the gift of the Steffels that made the new wing possible, Haines wants people to know that credit for this addition and the display inside is due to the many volunteers who played a role.
“It was really the work of a whole group of people who worked together for the good of the museum,” he said. “I especially want to thank Vern Steffel, who made it all possible in the first place. He sadly passed away before he had a chance to see the addition complete. I hope we’ve done him justice by preserving his legacy. as well as our own. “