As the site supervisor of Historic Forestville, John Grabko spent many days in period costume welcoming people to step back to the 1800s and observe pioneer life.  SUBMITTED PHOTO
As the site supervisor of Historic Forestville, John Grabko spent many days in period costume welcoming people to step back to the 1800s and observe pioneer life. SUBMITTED PHOTO
"Welcome to the first day of the best job that you will ever have!" is the greeting John Grabko of Spring Valley has given new interpreters joining the staff at Historic Forestville. Grabko is retiring from his position as site supervisor of this Minnesota Historical Society site on Aug. 15. He has spent the past 10 years working to preserve this portrayal of pioneer life in 1899, which is nestled inside Forestville/Mystery Cave State Park located just south of Wykoff, between Preston and Spring Valley.

Grabko was raised in the Twin Cities suburb of New Hope and has spent the last 30 years of his life working in the areas of community recreation, convention/visitor services and history. He moved into southeastern Minnesota after accepting employment directing recreational services for the Samaritan Bethany facilities in Rochester and serving as the Park and Recreation director for Oronoco.

Then after a decade, Grabko began working as the executive director with the Rochester Amateur Sports Commission, which is the sports marketing arm of the Rochester Convention and Visitors Bureau.

The last 10 years of his life have been dedicated to the Minnesota Historical Society at Historic Forestville introducing visitors to the area as well as local residents to living history. "These combined roles bring me to recreational history-based tourism with Historic Adventure and Travel Tours," stated Grabko.

In 2009, an idea began developing as Grabko worked in the history, tourism and recreational fields. This idea finally emerged into a business entitled Historic Adventure and Travel Tours.

Grabko said his lifelong dream and passion of sharing America's story has become a reality as he guides adventurers of all ages through what he calls some of America's most legendary and inspiring historical sites.

Blake Coleman of Lanesboro, an historic interpreter who portrays the character of a farmhand employed by Thomas Meighen in 1899 remarked, "John has always been the true professional with an amazing passion for American history. To have gotten to work with him and go on his bus tours has been a great pleasure."

Although staff members are excited Grabko is embarking on this new venue to present the history he loves to share, the special event on Aug. 31st at Historic Forestville, "By the Light of the Lantern," will be a little dimmer without his presence.

Grabko will miss those who made his time in this area so special. "It's the people that you meet in your life experience that you will carry with you," he said. "Here I have found the greatest folks anywhere....the interpretive staff at Historic Forestville. Frank and Liz Padjen, Darrel and Lois Ray, and the great people of Spring Valley."

Reflecting on his opportunity to live in the area, he added, "Spring Valley is the first smaller town that I have lived in and it is home to me. I love the feel and traditions of the town. The way the community history is important, preserved and shared by the Historical Society and its great historians. I appreciate the Christmas Parade, the way cars are still parked downtown diagonally in the style of the 1950s, the Battle Axe ad on the wall of a downtown business, the smell of a small town bakery in the morning, and seeing a young boy carrying a 12-inch brown in one hand and a fishing pole in the other with a big smile on his face. This town is really a special place."

These past 10 years Grabko has spent walking across the 1899 Carnegie Bridge and introducing visitors to pioneer life in southeastern Minnesota are filled with treasured memories and have fueled his desire to lead people to other historical sites where history can come to life for them in fun and memorable ways.

"I'll miss working with my old friends, but I'm looking forward to Aug. 16th as the 'first day of the best job I will ever have!' as I focus on my position as an independent history-based motor coach tour operator," Grabko concluded.

Upcoming tours from Grabko include trips to the "Lands of the Dakota War of 1862" on Aug. 18 and 19; to Gettysburg for his tour "Footsteps of Lincoln Tour for the 150th Anniversary of the Gettysburg Address" on Oct. 6 to 10; and to Red Wing for a Christmas tour on Monday, Dec. 23.

One may call Grabko at (507) 990-6283 or write to him at P.O. Box 205, Spring Valley, MN 55975, or visit his website historytours.vpweb.com/default.html.