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A passion for the past

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When Amy Degerstrom first began attending college at the University of Minnesota-Duluth, she had designs on becoming a speech therapist.

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"But I took one art history class and I knew that was it for me," Degerstrom said. "It was exciting to find out... all the things I love were in one field.

"Before that I never even knew this (career field) existed."

Once she had discovered art history, however, "I knew what I was going to do," she said.

She grew up in Ada, and her family was very supportive of her shift in career goals, if a little skeptical at first.

"What does an art historian do?" they asked her.

The answer, at least according to Degerstrom, is that she tries to find the story behind each artifact and object d'art that she studies.

"I found my niche when I was in college," Degerstrom said. "The University had a posting for a tour guide at Glensheen (the historic mansion that is owned and operated by UMD)."

Once she started working there, Degerstrom found herself fascinated by the stories behind the many beautiful treasures within the historic property.

"I realized the stories a historic place or object could tell were really what drew me in," she said. "I also found the local aspect of history really fascinating."

It wasn't all that surprising, really. Degerstrom's love for history was fostered at an early age -- her grandmother was a museum volunteer when she was a child, and her mother is the curator for the Norman County Historical Society.

"I've worked in museums in some capacity since 1998," Degerstrom said. "I worked my way through college as a student tour guide."

After getting a bachelor's degree in art history from UMD, Degerstrom worked for a while with the Minnesota Historical Society, at the State Capitol and Ramsey House in St. Paul, doing "mainly educational programs."

She then went on to pursue a master's degree in art history and museum studies from Ohio State University, and continued to work in museums in Ohio until about three years ago, when she moved back to Duluth.

"I worked for UMD as an art history teacher," she said, noting that initially her position was as a replacement for an instructor on sabbatical.

But when that teacher returned, "they asked me to stay on in an adjunct capacity and teach a few classes."

At the same time as she was teaching classes at UMD, Degerstrom also went back to work at Glensheen, in a part-time capacity.

"I had two jobs," she said.

Degerstrom continued to live and work in Duluth with her husband, Sean, until he got an opportunity to start up a new athletic training program at Essentia Health-St. Mary's in Detroit Lakes.

"It was a great opportunity for him," said Degerstrom, so she started looking for work in the area.

As luck would have it, Carrie Johnston resigned from her position as executive director of the Becker County Historical Museum just as Degerstrom was in the early stages of her job search.

"It was a pretty great coincidence," she said. "I'm happy to find a museum position here, and I'm happy to be able to bring the things I love to do to my new home."

Being closer to her family "was an added bonus," she added.

Her parents, Wayne and Solveig Kitchell, still live in Ada, while her sister, Elizabeth Rockstad, is an art teacher at Ulen-Hitterdal School.

Degerstrom officially started her new duties at the Becker County Museum on Monday; her housing situation, however, is still "in transition."

"We still have a house in Duluth which we're trying to sell," she said.

The couple, along with their cat Bob, has temporarily found a place to rent in Hawley until they get settled.

"I just finished my last job a week ago -- I'm moving in (at Hawley) as we speak," she said. "I will be out and about in the community as soon as I get settled in."

Eventually, said Degerstrom, "I'd really love to become more activity in the community, county-wide." But for now, she added, she will be spending her days learning about the museum and all of its treasures, in preparation for the County Historical Society's annual meeting on Nov. 20.

"I want to learn as much as I can, become involved in as many areas as I can, and meet as many people as I can, so I can preserve and share their history in a way that's beneficial to everybody," she said.

"I'm happy to be here, and glad to get started."

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Vicki Gerdes
Staff writer at Detroit Lakes Newspapers for the past 14 years, currently editor of the entertainment and community pages as well as obituaries. Living in DL with my cat, Smokey.
(218) 844-1454
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