Unsung heroes is a term that comes to mind during tours of the Northfield Historical Society (NHS). Visitors seeking to learn more about the James-Younger Gang’s attempted robbery of the First National Bank in 1876 leave the museum with information about the true heroes, the citizens who defended the town against the gang.
But long-dead citizens are not the only unsung heroes at the museum. Three Northfield residents who contributed their time and talents to the historical society last year recently received recognition for their efforts. Lisa Peterson, Randy Knox and Jackson Hillmann were honored as the 2015 volunteers of the year at the NHS annual meeting on March 19 at the Grand Event Center.
When longtime museum store manager and volunteer coordinator Gloria Powell retired, NHS Executive Director Hayes Scriven asked Lisa Peterson if she would be willing to help manage the store.
Peterson was working as a freelance graphic designer at the time, and she had served on the NHS board of directors from 2011-2014. She agreed to work 20 hours a week in the store, and she discovered that she greatly enjoyed it.
“Volunteers sometimes overlook the store — they want to be on the posse — but working in the store is fun. You get to talk to people from all over the country and all over the world,” she said. “Also, there’s a lot more to the museum than the James-Younger story. Once you get involved, you get a glimpse of Northfield you haven’t known about before.”
In August, Peterson was hired as the director of tourism at the Northfield Conventions and Visitors Bureau. She said her knowledge of the historical society comes in handy in her new job because the museum is Northfield’s biggest visitor attraction. She has continued to volunteer on the museum store committee, and in March she rejoined the NHS board of directors.
“I just can’t leave it alone,” she joked.
When it appeared that the museum and store hours would have to be reduced last year due to a lack of volunteers, Randy Knox answered the call for help.
Knox is a retired information technology project manager; he had no previous retail experience and had no idea he would enjoy working in the store as much as he does.
He typically works every Friday morning and every other Wednesday morning. He has also put in extra hours helping with the store’s conversion to a new point of sale system.
“What I enjoy most is meeting our visitors, conversing with them and sharing the story of Northfield,” he said. “Before I started working in the store, I had only a passing understanding of the James-Younger gang, the raid and the citizens’ response to it. The more I’ve learned, the more respect I have for the people who looked danger in the eye, took initiative and personal responsibility, and changed the course of history.”
Knox continues to volunteer in the store and plans to take docent training this spring.
Jackson Hillmann A junior at Northfield High School, Hillmann started his NHS volunteer experience as a seventh grader in the Junior Curator program. He continued in eighth grade as a member of the SCOPE program, and last summer, he mentored Junior Curators as one of the Summer Assistant Program supervisors.
He said one highlight of his volunteer experience occurred in August while researching information about Henry Wheeler, one of the townspeople who fought back against the James-Younger gang. He and another student found cryptic letters and numbers on the back of an article about Wheeler’s marriage, and the discovery led them to additional articles about Wheeler’s two later marriages.
“We felt like real historians — we inferred and found something out about the other marriages we hadn’t known about,” he said.
Computer science and math are Hillman’s favorite subjects, but he also enjoys history and highly recommends the museum’s youth programs to other students.
“It’s just a fun time — you feel like you’re doing something for your town, and contributing to a cool cause,” he said.
The Northfield Historical Society welcomes volunteers interested in working in the store or serving in other positions. For more information, contact Hayes Scriven at 507-645-9268