A Treasure Trove at the Veterans Gallery

By Joanie Buettgen Copyright 2009

Have you ever come across an old, dusty, steamer trunk up in the attic? If you have you’ll have been amazed that it survived all this time. As you open it the smell of history hits you. You start to notice that the family treasures and artifacts inside have been waiting to be opened by you. Then, slowly your thoughts wander to another time; and in your mind the owners of this trunk are now begging you to tell their stories.

Well, there are such memories right here at the Carver County Historical Society. There will be many military artifacts to share, and along with them, many stories will unfold. After this experience, you’ll want to linger and plan another get-together, long after our exhibit lights go out.

The Carver County Historical Society, in Waconia will be celebrating the grand opening dedication of the “Veterans Gallery” on Wednesday, Nov. 11, 2009. The celebration will start at 10:45 a.m. with Waconia High School Band and the Color Guard marching down the street to the Carver County Historical Society Museum.

The hours of the exhibit will be from 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. and every Saturday, from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. The excitement is mounting in anticipation of this local event. With the sound of hammers in full swing, the glass display cases spit-shined, and with numerous books standing at attention, all is ready. So, come in and experience your gallery, meditate your mind in a quiet corner, you’ll be glad you did.

CCHS acquired a collection from Dan Steinhagen, a Veterans Service Officer in 1996. In 2008 all hurdles were cleared to redesign the gallery to better reflect the stories of the people of Carver County. 

As I prepared this newsletter, I needed a little background on this memorial. When I sat down to speak with Larry Hutchings, Curator at CCHS, he kept working on a special project for the gallery. Hutchings was busy as a beaver at his work bench. As he measured twice and cut once he feverishly prepared for the Grand Opening of the Veterans Gallery.

I asked Larry, “How did the gallery come about?” He answered, “This private collection was acquired from Dan Steinhagen. In 1995 funding was made possible through the Veterans Gallery, with an addition on to the museum building being added in 1997.”

The process of installing this exhibit has been in the works for the last year and involved different phases of preparation and construction:

  • Planning-Nov. 2008-March 2009
  • Fund raising-Jan. 2009-April 2009
  • Research Jan. 2009-April 2009]
  • Text Development-April 2009-July 2009
  • Design Nov. 2008-March 2009
  • Fabrication April 2009-Sept. 2009
  • Gallery prep. Dec. 2008-Feb. 2009


Some of the goals of the Veterans Gallery were: Create a more personalized collection of objects that are representative of different conflicts, and that tell the personal stories of the veterans involved. A committee consisting of board members and Hutchings approached Steinhagen about making changes, Steinhagen thought it was a great idea and gave CCHS his blessings.

Hutchings stated that local labor unions (AFL/CIO) from Minneapolis came in to create a storage area which allows CCHS to properly store the contributions they receive and make room for future contributions. The construction materials were donated by Carver County.

Wendy Biorn, Executive Director of CCHS noted, “When people first walk in they will see a smaller volume of artifacts and may wonder where things have gone. I want to reassure people that nothing has been sold. Everything is here. We have changed the gallery to focus more on the personal stories of Carver County residents and less on the mass.”

The exhibit will cover the 150 years of Carver County History; of that one-third will cover the following wars: Civil War, Spanish-American War, Philippine-American War, World Wars I and II, Korean War, Cold War, Vietnam War, and the Persian Gulf Wars.

The themes of the exhibit will be: A Introduction/Interaction area, an Interpretive Exhibit; one that will tell the stories of our veterans, a Memorial Exhibit will be displayed to express our gratitude by acknowledging and thanking the veterans for their years of service, a Veterans Library with facilities for multimedia presentations, and finally a storage area.

Hutchings also wanted to send a big thank you to the four summer interns who did extensive research on the local stories for this exhibit.

In this gallery there will be objects that are representative of different conflicts, and personal objects that will tell the stories of Carver County servicemen and women. Along with these will be photographs and some brief descriptive text, which will provide tangible evidence of the military conflicts experienced by our residents. Because objects are tactile, and touching is a more memorable experience than seeing, a certain number of objects will be available for limited interaction.

In addition to the tactile experience of touching objects or printed names, the exhibit will provide a way for  pre=”for “>individuals to comment or leave something behind to memorialize themselves. Notebooks for leaving comments will be available, along with maps to mark areas of service. Some individual portraits of servicemen and women will be available to stimulate memories and conversation. American flags will be displayed proudly.

At the present time $8,000 is still needed for the Veterans Gallery, and donations are still being accepted. In addition, CCHS is still looking for Vietnam sponsors.

Is there any way to express the gratitude to these veterans for their years of service? Perhaps a great quote from legendary Ernie Pyle, a World War II correspondent, in a book written by Lee G. Miller, “The Story of Ernie Pyle.” “The discomfort is perpetual. You’re always cold and almost always dirty. Outside of food and cigarettes you have absolutely none of the little things that make life normal back home. You just sort of exist, either standing up or working or lying down asleep. There is no pleasant in-between. The velvet is all gone from living.”

We at CCHS invite you to come browse, read and reflect you’ll be glad you did.

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