By Kristen Miller
COKATO, MN - Preserving Cokato’s rich history for generations to come is why the Cokato Historical Society was formed 35 years ago.
In 1974, the society was formed with the original concept of caring for a historical collection being stored in the basement of the HC Bull Library, located in what is now Cokato Elementary.
The society also wished to work toward the building of a museum that would eventually house the existing collection.
Janice Severson, who was one of the founding members, gives credit and acknowledgement to those who had the foresight to begin a historical collection, such as Richard and Hazel Peterson.
The society was to ensure that future generations would have resources available to them to learn about the culture of the city and to not forget its past, Severson explained.
The historical society adopted the following mission statement in 1992: “The Cokato Historical Society is committed to actively collect, preserve, and interpret the history of Cokato ant the surrounding area in the community and beyond, to present programs to an audience of all ages, and maintain ties with our ethnic heritage, which is predominately Swedish and Finnish.”
Severson is very passionate about preserving Cokato’s rich history for the generations to come.
“Every area has a different distinction, many times it’s ethnicity, but not always, and every area needs to preserve what’s important to them,” Severson said.
“I feel that we need to know about our history if you don’t know that, you don’t have a future,” Severson said.
She gave the example of one’s parents passing away before ever having the chance to learn different details of the family’s past.
“[The museum] is so we don’t lose that,” Severson said.
The Cokato Museum, which opened September 1976, has a number of displays set up year-round highlighting the different aspects of the city’s past.
Also, throughout the year, including the Memorial Day weekend and through the holiday season, there are changing exhibits in which the historical society has an opportunity to highlight other items in its collection.
The Cokato Historical Society works in partnership with the City of Cokato to operate the Cokato Museum and the Gust Akerlund Photography Studio, located along Fourth Street in downtown Cokato.
As a 501(c)3 nonprofit, the society is able to be the lead applicant for numerous grant opportunities.
One of the most recent grants received was for the digital scanning of glass plate negatives from the Akerlund collection.
CHS hosts events throughout the year
Also each year, the Cokato Historical Society hosts a number of events and activities aside from the museum exhibits.
In January, the historical society hosts a New Year’s open house event in the Centennial Room of the library/museum building, as well as a Model T snowmobile rally in Peterson Park.
April is when the annual meeting is scheduled, at which time the public is also welcome to attend.
Throughout the Corn Carnival, the historical society hosts different events from year-to-year, such as a classic car show and tractor show.
In the fall, the historical society is hoping to host a published author to speak.
December is when the society hosts its annual holiday potluck dinner.
Being a member has its benefits
The Cokato Historical Society has plenty of benefits for its members including a quarterly newsletter and promotional mailings.
The society also tries to keep its membership rates affordable. It hasn’t raised rates for more than 10 years, according to Worcester.
Membership rates are: $10 for an individual, $15 for a family, $25 for a business, $50 for supporters, and $100 for benefactors.
Current members of the board of trustees include President Donald Holm, Vice President Ruth Christenson, Treasurer Shirley Cole, and Mike Worcester, recording secretary and museum director. The trustees are Steve Anderson, David Christofferson, Dori Kimball, Elroy Dahlin, Ruth Ann Licht, Mark Peterson, Jim Ryan, Janice Severson, Peggy Carlson, and Bruce Johnson.
For more information about the Cokato Historical Society, visit the web site at www.cokato.mn.us/cmhs/chs or contact the museum at (320) 286-2427.