Three local residents will be honored Saturday, Feb. 4, as the Northfield Historical Society’s 2016 Volunteers of the Year. NHS will present the awards to Bill Malnar, Alyssa Ness, and Phil Peterson at the organization’s annual meeting and dinner at the Grand Event Center, 316 Washington St.
Bill Malnar, Collections Volunteer of the Year
Bill Malnar’s interest in history was sparked at age 6 or 7 when he began collecting Topps “Civil War News” trading cards. So it’s perhaps no surprise that, these days, you often can find the amateur historian in the basement of the Northfield Historical Society, cataloging the museum’s collection of military uniforms.
Malnar visited Northfield for the first time in 2011, during a college visit with his son. “He fell in love with Carleton, and I fell in love with Northfield,” Malnar said.
It took Malnar two years to sell his house in Illinois, but once he did and moved to Northfield, he began volunteering at the museum, assisting Curator and Archives Manager Cathy Osterman two hours a day, two days a week.
“The first thing Cathy had me do was research and catalogue the firearms collection,” he said. “Somehow she looked at me and thought, ‘you must be interested in guns.’”
Malnar owns a collection of reproduction Victorian-era clothing, and during his first year at the museum, he dressed exclusively in costume. His latest project involves assisting Osterman with an upcoming exhibit on World War I.
Alyssa Ness, Store Volunteer of the Year
Alyssa Ness got her first taste of volunteering at the historical society as a St. Olaf College student. During her senior year, she wrote some blog posts for the NHS website, including one about the history of city hall. Although she was an English major, she became more interested in history during college, and she started researching her own family history.
When she learned two years ago that the museum needed store volunteers, she decided to sign up for a few weekend shifts a month. Throughout 2016, Ness worked almost every Saturday and many Sundays.
“On the weekend you don’t know if it’s going to be really busy or really dead. Either way is nice,” she said. “You meet lots of interesting people, folks who come from the suburbs on a day trip, and folks from down South, or from out of the country.”
Ness lives in Stanton and works as an office administrator for a small construction company in Hampton. She said volunteering at the store gives her a chance to talk to visitors and be helpful.
“It’s a fun way to be more connected to the museum, to downtown and to its history,” she said.
Posse Member of the Year:
When Phil Peterson retired to Northfield eight years ago from Plymouth, he began looking for ways to get involved in the community. Because two of his children had attended St. Olaf, he already knew about the attempted bank robbery in 1876, and he decided he’d like to join the adult posse.
He completed the training and continued to learn even more details about the raid from Earl Weinmann and Chip DeMann. For the past seven years, Peterson has led tours at the museum, sharing the knowledge he has acquired about the James brothers and the rest of the gang.
“I am especially interested in the human side of it — who are they, why are they here,” he said. “It’s like a Greek tragedy; it’s pre-ordained that it’s going to come to a bad end.”
Peterson said some visitors already know quite a bit about the gang and the robbery, while others enter the museum knowing little to nothing about it. He enjoys tailoring his presentation based on people’s level of knowledge and interest.
“It’s a very engaging story,” he said. “Joining the posse is a way to connect with your community here, and meet people from around the area and around the country.”
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 or email him at email@example.com. Or if you would like to attend the annual meeting, you can register at the Northfield Historical Society or online.