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Perham museums hire new director and CEO

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Perham museums hire new director and CEO
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Perham’s two museums have a new executive director and chief operating officer.

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The Friends of the History Museum of East Otter Tail County this week announced the hire of Darla Ellingson. Ellingson will oversee the history museum, the In Their Own Words Veterans Museum and the White Elephant Thrift Store.

Ellingson brings a wealth of experience in helping businesses thrive and grow. A recent transplant from Maui, Hawaii, she was executive director of a museum that celebrates the sugar cane industry and early plantation life in Hawaii. She also operated her own media and business consulting company for 22 years, and wrote articles about local history.

“Researching and writing about history gives us unique insight about who we are today as a community,” said Ellingson in a press release. “The History Museum of East Otter Tail County has an advanced archive and genealogy database that is very exciting.”

Ellingson’s business experience includes involvement in the start-up and ongoing management of several Maui initiatives, including: creating a successful downtown revitalization program; leading the start-up of Maui Community Television; helping launch one of Hawaii’s largest tourist attractions, Maui Ocean Center Aquarium; and developing and implementing successful operations and a facility remodel of the nearly defunct Historic Iao Theater.

In Minnesota, she most recently worked as an appraiser in the County Assessor’s office, and has worked as a local writer and designer and in various marketing capacities.

“Words have incredible power, and the stories of veterans contained at ITOW are moving,” she said.

The role Ellingson takes on is not without its challenges. While there seems to be support that can be generated to operate both museums, funding to finish ITOW fell short of projections. But the museum board is encouraged about the future.

“Through a tremendous amount of community support, meetings and strategy sessions, the nonprofit has made significant inroads in knocking down its debt and making a sensible plan for the future,” said Friends of the Museum Board President Marcia Davis.

Community leaders have expressed confidence in the museums’ ability to move forward.

“Museums tell important stories and enrich our community, and supporting them is vital,” said Kenny Nelson, President of KLN Family Brands in Perham. “Hiring a director with a diverse background and business skills like Darla Ellingson will help the nonprofit organization realize its goals.”

Ellingson moved to Minnesota with her Ashby, Minnesota-born husband Stephen, and two children, Kelly, 20, and Dane, 13. 

Her volunteer activities include participating as a committee member for the American Legion Post 357’s annual Memorial Day program, along with her husband, who is a Gulf War veteran. A Vietnam Wall memorial and video is on display in the ITOW museum, on loan from Post 357.

The nonprofit Friends of the Museum of East Otter Tail County board oversees the history museum and ITOW. The White Elephant Thrift Store is attached to ITOW, with profits going to support the museums. The board is currently conducting its annual membership drive, and is also seeking volunteers.

For membership information, or to volunteer, email darlaellingson@itowmuseum.org, or visit historymuseumeot.com or itowmuseum.org.

“A robust volunteer and membership base helps strengthen the organization, and we welcome more involvement,” said Ellingson. “I look forward to sharing the wonderful attributes of both museums, and being involved in the Perham community.”

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