Time to spring for annual history!

The Spring Valley Historical Society's annual meeting will be Sunday, April 27, at Faith United Methodist Church, kicking off the busy spring and summer season for society director Julie Mlinar and her staff.

Guest speaker John Grabko will present his program "History of the Civilian Conservation Corps, Minnesota and Fillmore County" at approximately 1:30 p.m. during the annual meeting. The event starts at 12:30 p.m. with lunch, followed by the annual business meeting immediately following the meal.

Mlinar has been dusting winter off the exhibit shelves and invites the public to attend the society's first official meeting of the year - either by making a reservation for the meal or simply appearing at Grabko's presentation afterwards.

Grabko is retired with the Minnesota Historical Society, having spent a decade sharing and preserving history as site supervisor at Historic Forestville. Previous to this, he worked with the Rochester Convention & Visitors Bureau, promoting southeast Minnesota tourism to national and international markets.

Grabko continues to work as a seasonal naturalist at Forestville Mystery Cave State Park. An alumnus of Mankato State University 1976-80, Grabko has presented and shared his passion for Minnesota and United States history to countless groups and organizations over the past 20 years. In 2009, he founded Historic Adventure & Travel Tours, taking interested travelers the next step in walking the ground where history happened.

The meeting is just one of the items on Mlinar's busy spring agenda, as the society's museum buildings officially open Memorial Day weekend, or May 24, with daily hours from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., and also open especially for the May 17 and 18 Almanzo 100 Bike Race to allow people who have come from afar to take in Spring Valley's history on the ground where it happened.

Opening three buildings - the Washburn-Zittleman House Museum, the Methodist Church Museum and the implement barn - for a new season each spring requires some housekeeping.

"To prepare for opening, we do have to go through all the buildings and clean," said Mlinar. "A lot of dust, cobwebs and dead bugs accumulate over the winter, so we take three days and work at getting it ready to go. We are looking for volunteers to come and help clean, and anyone with a few hours of free time can come on May 8 to10 from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. each day. Anytime within those hours, people can come to help and stay as long as their schedule allows. It's a huge project, and so we would appreciate as many hands as possible to make it go quicker and get it all done."

She added that they will also be stocking the gift shop and organizing a few displays to include items that they have had stored that they want to allow visitors to see, including letters from Laura Ingalls Wilder that were written to relatives and have been given to the society.

This year's big project isn't a building repair project, according to Mlinar, who stated that once cleaning is done and the museum windows are thrown open, the focus is on pictures.

"Because we did so many large building projects the last few years, we will be focusing on our exhibits and photo files this year. We are in the process of putting all our photographs that are in our files onto storage media that will be kept at different locations to preserve from fire, theft or harm," she noted. "We have thousands of photos that have been donated, so the process is slow and tedious. We have started this, and with the help of Janice Welch from Stewartville, we now have a good handle on the process and can have other volunteers come to scan and file the photos."

Mlinar anticipates a busy summer filled with visitors and events. On Friday, June 20, the society will once again have the annual ice cream social, which is one of the group's biggest fundraisers for the year.

"It's always a fun time for people to come and eat, sit, relax and enjoy fellowship and music," she said.

Another event the society is hoping to hold this summer is Old Time School Days.

"Scheduling may be more difficult as we need to work around very busy schedules of our two schoolmarms who have done it the past two years - Amy Welch and Shelby Larson have done a great job in the past, and we would like to use them again if possible, so will see as the summer approaches what they think they can do. Otherwise we will work on getting new marms," said Mlinar.

Mlinar is excited to open the museums for a new season, as each day promises new visitors from here and afar.

"A new season is always exciting as we welcome new staff and new visitors. It's always fun to see what we have through the eyes of people that are experiencing our history for the first time," she said. "I wish I had kept track of how many times we've heard people say that they can't believe all the wonderful history we have here and how great the museums are. For kids, it's always fun to see how things worked or were used back in the 1800s to early 1900s. They are allowed to touch in a few areas where it is sometimes hard to get them to move on. They love to type on the old typewriter, see how toast was made on the old cook stove and see how a fire was put out using a bucket. One of our goals is to come up with a few more displays that are hands-on for kids to touch."

Mlinar related that the museum is a destination for those interested in Wilder history, and that in itself brings people from across the country and the globe. They keep a guestbook of visitors showing where they have come from, and a map with pins to show people all the places.

"It's a fun goal to see if we can get all 50 states and many countries in a single season. Last summer, we had 43 of the 50 states and nine foreign countries, which is pretty good, but we're shooting for 50," she said. "For me, the most fun about being in charge is working with a great staff, a range of different ages of guides from 14 to 80-something-year-olds. Each has unique qualities that add to the experience and fun of guiding and greeting guests to Spring Valley. Also, meeting people from around the world and getting to share in their lives for an hour or so is very interesting and makes the day fly by."

She reiterated that good stewardship of the museums' collections is vital. "Because we have so many people come through the museums, we do want to keep it in the best shape we can. We are always cleaning and trying to maintain the buildings to keep them safe and enjoyable for people, which takes time, volunteers and money. We have had awesome support in the past from members, the community, businesses, and the city, and we can't say enough how much we appreciate that. But, like most non-profits, that is how we exist and must rely on that support, and it is a continuing struggle to keep up. We hope that people will not forget about us, and at the very least will come visit and bring family and friends when they are in town."

Mlinar hopes to welcome plenty of people to the annual meeting on Sunday, April 27, at Faith United Methodist Church, 617 Maple Lane, Spring Valley. To reserve a meal, call Mlinar by April 24 at 346-7659.