Museum faces new competitor

Coralie Carlson

Entering a West Bank museum erected in his honor, visitors are greeted by Hubert H. Humphrey’s mantra: People possess the wisdom and goodness to resolve conflicts in peace.
Now a political maneuver threatens conflict and competition to the museum itself.
The Legislature appropriated $1 million to create a Hubert H. Humphrey Museum and Learning Center in Waverly, Minn., in the bonding bill Gov. Arne Carlson signed into law Wednesday. While officials at the University’s Humphrey Forum museum support the new facility, they also fear a possible rivalry.
Situated 40 miles west of the Twin Cities, Waverly officials started a small Humphrey museum two years ago. The exhibit commemorated the senator and vice president who lived in the rural town during his years of public service.
But last August, the museum’s temporary housing burned down, taking with it some artifacts on loan from the University.
The new museum is anticipated as an economic boost for the town of 600 people when it opens in 2001. Lawmakers agreed to give Waverly $1 million to build a permanent museum, providing Waverly can raise matching funds.
“There was hardly any detectable opposition,” said Sen. Steve Dille, R-Dassel, who sponsored the legislation.
There isn’t opposition at the Humphrey Forum on the West Bank either, but there are reservations. Officials worry the area won’t be able to support two museums dedicated to Humphrey’s legacy.
“I think the optimism Humphrey had for politics is great and if we need a museum every 40 miles from here to California and again to Washington, D.C., then so be it,” said Steve Sandell, director of the Humphrey Forum.
Whether that enthusiasm exists is still a question. But Sandell said the competition for support and funding between the museums is certain.
A state special appropriation finances the Humphrey Forum, providing more than $100,000 annually. The Waverly site plans to raise a $2.9 million endowment through private donations to create revenue. About three-fourths of Minnesota’s museums are at least partially funded by the state or local governments.
If times get rough, Dille said there could be competition between the Humphrey museums for money at the Legislature.
Sandell stressed that the museums need to specialize in different aspects of Humphrey’s life and legacy, so sponsors and patrons aren’t confused.
“I think there is plenty of room for both of us,” said Irene Bender, the Waverly museum’s executive director. “Steve and Ann probably couldn’t handle any more students.”
Ann Kejelsberg is the Humphrey Forum’s assistant director.
As it stands, Bender said she plans to concentrate on four themes: Humphrey’s life history, the Food for Peace program, civil rights and the Vietnam War.
She admits these themes are very similar to the Humphrey Forum, but said the location — in the town Humphrey called home — sets the two museums apart.
Sandell has been giving advice to Waverly officials and hopes to continue collaborations as their learning center gets up and running.
“I want our museum to complement the work that each of use does,” Sandell said. “I hope that we can distinguish ourselves from each other.”