lending a hand | Museum

Volunteer opportunities for the history buffs

Local museums need volunteers for many tasks


The last two weeks we covered volunteer opportunities for firefighters and EMTs. If an adrenaline rush or getting called to work at 2:00 o'clock in the morning is not your cup of tea, perhaps we have another option for you. Do you enjoy history, learning about local history or maybe even restoring old pieces from the past? If so, volunteering at a local museum may be a perfect fit for you.

Lake Preston and De Smet each have a museum that pertains to the history surrounding the town and local areas. Other towns in Kingsbury County may not have a museum, but if you ask around, there is always someone who knows someone who has the town archives, or perhaps someone organizing some local artifacts and town records. Volunteering at a local museum can cover a variety of tasks.

The Laura Ingalls Wilder Memorial Society is seeking volunteers to work as tour guides or to help in the gift shop. Carthage has the Campbell Straw Bale Museum. Oldham has a small museum, and Arlington has a museum too. I am sure all of these entities would welcome volunteers. Check with each museum as opportunities and utilization of volunteers will vary from place to place.


A museum volunteer may be someone who donates time to improve or expand a museum and its exhibits. The hours are close to normal working hours, but the area museums would be happy with volunteers who just work a few hours or even more a week. The hours would be flexible and not strenuous. For the most part, museum work is similar to library work, quiet, but with something always going on somewhere in the building.

Are you a social person who would enjoy giving tours, engaging the public and educating about the local areas, historical figures who lived around here and events that happened? What if you are more the type who likes to do research or reading? If an item is donated to the museum, they want to know what it is, who made it, when it was made and other aspects related to the piece. Researching the history on an item, so you can share the story behind it, could be rewarding.

If you are good with your hands, archiving or restoring items at a museum may be more suitable.

If you are handy around the house, think about assisting at a museum. They get water leaks just like everyone else. Maybe they need some new display exhibits, lighting installed for the displays, or general lifting or moving of items. The opportunities are boundless.


Mary Rockino volunteers at the Lake Preston Museum. In 1965, her first volunteer experience was helping with the American Red Cross. She and her husband moved to Lake Preston in 1973, where her husband was the town dentist. She was quick to help wherever she was needed. She was a member of the Progressive Young Women and the Chamber of Commerce, both organizations allowed members opportunities to volunteer and help with projects around the community.

Volunteering helped Rockino fit in with her new community.

“It is a way of meeting people, especially when you move to a new community,” said Rockino. “You find things you are interested in, and then, you just go and see what it is all about. If you think it is a good fit, you stay with it.”

She also shared some positives she has acquired from volunteering. Meeting new people, making new friends, feeling good about oneself, accomplishing goals and giving back to community are what drives Rockino as a volunteer.

Rockino recommends volunteering for others.

“The positives far outweigh the negatives,” she said.

She says it gives her joy sharing the experiences and learning about items in the museum.

“Meeting different people, being able to really explore and enjoy my love of history,” said Rockino, “has just been my passion since I was young. Learning about things and learning about how things were made and what they were used for and just the general sharing the knowledge that I have gained.”

Rockino’s passion for local history has driven her and her husband to work on a book, "The History of Lake Preston: People and Places." It is a 500-plus page hardback book covering the history of Lake Preston, its people, businesses and events. It is an incredibly detailed book complete with photos. If you are interested in learning about the history of Lake Preston, this is the book for you. It is available from any museum member.


You would be hard pressed to find someone in De Smet who does not know Sharon Peterson. She grew up here and attends the United Methodist Church. She started volunteering when she was in her late twenties, she helped with the United Methodist Women. Her desire to volunteer was based on her dad’s belief in giving back to the community.

Peterson has a long list of volunteering experiences, and it would be quite challenging to find someone with more volunteer hours in this community than her. She currently volunteers at De Smet’s museum. Peterson enjoys giving back to the community and would encourage anyone thinking of volunteering to get involved.

One of her favorite volunteer experiences was working on a musical about De Smet for June 10, Old Settler’s Day.

“I was willing to help; it made you feel good to be able to do something, especially when we did the musical on De Smet,” said Peterson. “I knew that June 10th or the Old Settlers' Day had been a big part of De Smet for many years. I was happy to be able to put it together. I love music, so it was easy for me to put together the history of June 10th or Old Settlers' Day and putting that into music. It was a sense of accomplishment.”


A museum volunteer helps to preserve the history and heritage of the area. Let’s say a farmer is working a new section of land and uncovers some Indian artifacts. He could keep them at his house, but how much more exciting it is if he donates the items to a local museum. As a volunteer, you may research the items or even collaborate with a nearby university.

Then you might make a display that is attractive and appealing, and finally a tour guide shares the history behind the piece, also telling the farmer’s story. You will be sharing the story with not just locals, but individuals from all over the United States and the world.

You are a storyteller, and who doesn’t enjoy a good story? That can make volunteering at a museum exciting.


If you are interested in being a museum volunteer, visit the local museum and look at the exhibits. Can you picture yourself helping there? Do you find the displays interesting? If there is not a museum in your town, is there someone working on it? Ask around. What about helping a school or a local church organize their archives? Some businesses in the area have roots from the very early days, and it would be interesting to study, research and share their history. Of course, ask first, before you charge in and start going to work. I enjoy newspaper writing. You learn about a person or an event and then share those stories with others. Working in a museum is remarkably similar.

What a great way to be able to help your community by studying it history, people, places and events, doing research and then sharing it with others. It is a volunteer opportunity for someone who may be handy around the house, who may be a history buff or who may want to engage visitors and educate them. Where else can you volunteer and learn that a hundred years ago all the top men in your community dressed up in drag, hired a photographer to take their picture and then went through the photo and documented every single person in that photo?

The people, town, events and experiences you learn about will make it exciting to share with others.


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