When you enter the History Center of Olmsted County, Lisa Baldus wants you to be much more than a visitor looking at the exhibits. The center’s executive director wants you to become a historian—examining, analyzing and interpreting all the center has to offer. “I have a keen interest in sharing the complexity of history with others,” she says. “It’s not about artifacts standing alone. History involves understanding those objects within the context of what was happening around them and knowing their stories.”
A lifelong resident of Olmsted County, Lisa is passionate about telling the stories of this area in tangible ways. Since joining the History Center of Olmsted County in February, she has undertaken a major renovation of the exhibit hall with an eye toward making it a place of robust learning, where patrons actively engage in history and discover something new with each visit.
A HEART FOR HISTORY
Lisa’s connection to the History Center originated back in her elementary school days. Growing up on a small farm located between Oxbow Park and the town of Douglas, she and her third-grade classmates learned to churn butter on a field trip to the center. Later, as a college student at Winona State, she came home on weekends to give tours of Mayowood Mansion, which the History Center oversees. After earning a degree in history, Lisa worked in the finance and banking industry, as well as with for-profit and nonprofit companies. But her love of history remained strong. When the chance to lead the History Center of Olmsted County opened up, she knew it was the right choice. “During my career, I’ve run the retail operations for a bank with six branches. I’ve worked for two Fortune 500 companies,” says Lisa. “Nothing seems as important as the work I’m doing now. This is where my heart is.”
A MORE IN-DEPTH STORY
A significant part of Lisa’s motivation to revitalize the exhibits comes from her desire to display more of the center’s large collection. The size of the collection is unique among local history centers. Showcasing that collection in a dynamic way is at the top of Lisa’s priority list. The new exhibits highlight themes such as “Industry,” “Innovation” and “The Age of Conflict.” Within each category, the specific featured objects will change on a regular basis. “We have a massive collection of quality pieces,” Lisa says. “With this new design, we’ll be able to display much more of it, telling the stories of Olmsted County in more depth. We hope this attracts people to come back often to see what’s new.” Lisa’s desire to share all that the History Center has to offer spurs her to dedicate long days to her work. She often puts in 50 to 60 hours a week at the center. “I want this museum to come alive. That’s why I walk in the door each morning,” she says. “I love it when people come in and see something they have never seen before. To be able to open up someone’s world with something new is magical. The opportunity to offer that experience is absolutely the best part of my job.”
CHRISTMAS AT MAYOWOOD
Each year, the History Center of Olmsted County hosts tours of Mayowood Mansion decorated for the holidays. This year, Christmas at Mayowood will take an open house form with docents in each room. Lisa Baldus shares her thoughts on this cherished Rochester tradition. Q: What do you enjoy most about Christmas at Mayowood? A: I love the way the decorations bring out the wonderful features of the rooms. People often expect glitz and gl amour from the mansion at Christmastime. It certainly is well decorated, and there are touches of glamour. But the decorators do it in a way that enhances the architecture of each space. Q: Do you have a favorite room? A: Yes, the master bedroom that belonged to Dr. Charlie and Edith Mayo. Q: What about it appeals to you? A: It has a sitting room with a wonderful window that looks over the lake. In the winter, the light glistening off the bare branches and the sparkling white snow as a backdrop for the Christmas decorations is gorgeous. Q: What makes this time of year at Mayowood special? A: The mansion has extraordinary beauty in the way it was built. The way Dr. Charlie designed Mayowood, nature is invited in. You can see and feel it throughout the home. Add Christmas on top of that, and it is just breathtaking. For details about Christmas at Mayowood, call 507-282-9447 or visit olmstedhistory.com.
Tracy Will is a freelance writer who lives and works in Rochester.