By Jo Colvin
Rachel Barduson’s career is history.
On September 14, she officially retired from her position as executive director of the Douglas County Historical Society (DCHS) in Alexandria.
Now she wants to get going on her future.
“I love the historical society. That was a chapter of my life,” Barduson said. “I’m now going to pursue my next chapter.”
It’s no wonder Barduson has such a passion for Douglas County history. She is a native of the county and a graduate of Evansville High School. She so missed “God’s country” that after several years in southern Minnesota, she returned.
After working in the nonprofit realm as a domestic violence advocate, she decided it was time for a change. When she heard about the executive director position at DCHS, she knew it would be a perfect fit.
On January 2, 2002, Barduson stepped into the historical society to set in action her plans for its future.
“My goal was to bring excitement to history and bring in young and old alike,” she said. “I thought I could bring in a new energy and really take what’s inside that house out into the community.”
Although she couldn’t change the past, Barduson was determined to stir up excitement and inspire people to learn about it through speaking engagements and written stories. She made history herself by starting the student associate program, an effort that brought students from Douglas County onto the board of directors to learn about governance as well as become involved in history.
“That was one of the highlights of my time there, getting younger people involved in the programs that we have,” she said.
Other fond recollections include the unveiling of the 1958 time capsule on the courthouse lawn and burying a new one; publishing a book in 2008 in celebration of the Douglas County sesquicentennial; making improvements to the Knute Nelson house; and developing the heritage garden on the property.
Of all her duties and accomplishments, none was more rewarding than kicking off an event that brought history alive — the Hangar Dance. The event was held for three years at Chandler Field in Alexandria and focused on celebrating the World War II era.
“Wow, that was so worth it!” she reminisced. “When I started seeing the people filing toward the hangar dressed in their 1940s costumes and the crowd and the energy…it brought tears to my eyes.”
But history could never be made if not for change, and despite its many rewards, Barduson, who has recently become a grandmother, knew it was time for another change.
It’s all about sisu.
Of Finnish origin, sisu is a word that is said quite often in the Barduson household.
“It means perseverance, courage, having the guts to take risks and move forward,” Barduson explained. “You have to take the leap.”
That’s exactly what she plans for her future.
Knowing DCHS is in good hands under the interim care of Carol Neumann, board liaison, and Kim Dillon, an “awesome” and “incredible” executive assistant, Barduson is about to bring sisu to her life.
She plans to disseminate her love of history through history topic presentations, walking tours, telling stories, working with Community Education, independent speaking engagements and freelance historical writing.
She also wants to expand her writing skills out of the historical realm and do some humorous writing, similar to that of one her favorite columnists – Erma Bombeck.
As if that weren’t enough to keep her days of “retirement” filled, Barduson and her daughter are going to launch a heritage storybook publishing company. In keeping with her recent life change and gutsy leap, they will call the company Sisu.
“I have way too many dreams going on here,” Barduson said with a laugh.
But if history repeats itself, those dreams will probably become a guaranteed part of her future.