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New SMSU Exhibit at Local Museum; Alumna Andries is Executive Director

Published Friday, February 26, 2021
Jennifer Andries, sitting in the new SMSU display on the second floor of the Lyon County Historical Museum
Jennifer Andries, sitting in the new SMSU display on the second floor of the Lyon County Historical Museum

A new exhibit in the Lyon County Historical Museum features Southwest Minnesota State University as part of a number of exhibits on the  newly-renovated second floor.

The SMSU exhibit includes a replica of the concrete pillar which held up the  “Dome,” the most identifiable architectural landmark on campus prior to the Jan. 2, 2002 fire that destroyed Food Service East and affected every other building on campus.

The display features several glossy posters highlighting various aspects of university history. One is about former SMSU President Jon Wefald, the man credited with saving SMSU when enrollments dipped critically. There’s one about the old Student Center lounge. Another about how the university came to be located in Marshall. And another about Vietnam War protests, and racial tensions in 1969. In a display box is a charred plate from the student dining area, where the fire started, along with a mug and a piece of the original Dome. There’s an old college t-shirt, furniture which is an exact replica of the ’70s-era chairs found in the Dome Lounge, and a vintage softball uniform.

There’s also a touch display which features audio of author Carol Bly and former History professor Joe Amato talking about rural issues at the 1982 Countryside Conference, and a recording of former President Connie J. Gores’ inauguration speech.

Some of the items in the display are on loan from the Alumni Gallery on campus, said Jennifer (Schefers) Andries, a 2008 alumna and the executive director of the museum. She earned a degree in History, and her current position fits perfectly with a passion she’s had since the fifth grade, growing up in Marty (Pearl Lake) near Kimball, a community of 900 south of St. Cloud.

She came to SMSU for several reasons: her mother grew up in Wabasso, and thus was familiar with the area visiting grandparents; and she received several scholarships when she applied. “A lot was related to scholarships,” she said.

She had an internship at the Renville County Museum in Morton as a student, and that experience solidified her interest in working at a museum.

“I love local history, and connecting it to U.S. and world history. I like to know and share local stories.”

She has been the executive director since 2012 and has been busy with getting the second floor displays opened, and with the 150th anniversary of Lyon County. A picture book related to that anniversary is available at the museum and due to the pandemic, many of the anniversary events have been delayed until 2021.

The museum is located in what used to be the Marshall-Lyon County Library. The second floor was the children’s area. The entire second floor renovation cost about $500,000, said Andries. The museum received grant money from the Minnesota Historical Society, to go along with over $160,000 that was raised locally.

“It took over three years” for the renovation,” said Andries. COVID-19 and exhibit changes delayed the opening about a year, she said.

The SMSU exhibit is one of five themed areas on the second floor. The others include Community, Industry, Natural Disasters, and Agriculture. One thing that sticks out is the state-of-the-art technology, which allows museum visitors a more hands-on experience.  There’s even a karaoke area, where the music of songwriter and Tracy native Dennis Morgan is featured (“I Was Country, When Country Wasn’t Cool” — Barbara Mandrell), along with Marshall native Sean Tilman, aka Har Mar Superstar.

The museum is governed by a nine-person board, and several have SMSU ties. Jeff Kolnick is a professor of History; Jan Louwagie recently retired as the long-time director of the Southwest History Center, now housed in the SMSU McFarland Library; Bill Palmer received his secondary teaching licensure at SMSU; and Marilee Thomas, who works in the Academic Deans office.

The museum hired  a company, Museology Museum Services from Minneapolis, to oversee the renovation. “They did the planning, the research and the building of the exhibits,” she said. Western Print of Marshall printed the poster displays.

Andries said the SMSU display will hopefully grow in the future. “We would welcome donations to the (SMSU) display,” said Andries. “There’s room for more. We have additional wall space, and we could add a display case.”