Renovations to begin soon: Fundraising campaign yields more than $900,000 for Rock County Historical Society

LUVERNE -- While it may look like just a shell of a building now, as Betty Mann walks through the former Herman Motors Building in downtown Luverne, her eyes light up as she points out how this old building will be renovated to become the new loc...

1996483+RockCoHistoricalSociety WEB.jpg
Betty Mann stands in what will be the showroom of the museum. Julie Buntjer/Daily Globe

LUVERNE - While it may look like just a shell of a building now, as Betty Mann walks through the former Herman Motors Building in downtown Luverne, her eyes light up as she points out how this old building will be renovated to become the new location for the Rock County Historical Society Museum.

By this time next year, her vision should be a reality and the public will be able to experience Rock County history like never before - all on one level and accessible to everyone.
Undoubtedly it has taken a long time to get to this point, and even though there is still roughly a year of building renovation and display creation ahead of them, the end is in sight.
Mann said the relocation of the museum - currently housed in a nearly 2,000-square-foot space in the Luverne Masonic Temple - has been a dream of hers for years. The temple is not handicap-accessible, and the cost to install an elevator was just too high - not to mention even more of an already-cramped space would be lost.

Mann suggested the idea of a new museum location back in 2006, during a Blandin community program. Several different options were explored in the years since, including locating the museum at the Rock County Fairgrounds in Luverne. None of those ideas, however, panned out.
“Then this building came up for sale almost two years ago,” said Mann as she stood in the former showroom of the car dealership. “We bought it a year and a half ago, but we couldn’t have access until (Herman Motors) moved out June 1.”
Since June, inmates in the community service program of Rock-Nobles Community Corrections have gutted the building’s 11,000-square-foot interior, taking out ceiling and wall materials and even removing a brick wall from inside the vehicle repair/workshop. Their 708 hours of demolition work saved the historical society tens of thousands of dollars, said Kyle Oldre, Rock County Administrator and chairman of the society’s building committee.
Among the items removed were tin ceiling tiles - now considered antiques - which Mann said will somehow be reused in the museum.
Raising funds
In April 2014, the Rock County Historical Society began a fundraising campaign to not only pay off the loan to purchase the building, but to also cover the renovation costs.
Sixteen months later, Mann said nearly $900,000 in pledges and cash has been raised - and not all of it from individuals.
“We’ve had very good support from the city and the county in this venture,” she said.
Then, an anonymous donor stepped up and offered a dollar-for-dollar match on contributions, up to $300,000, starting March 1.
Wanting to maximize the donor’s offer to match, the historical society came up with a unique idea. They wanted to promote Mann’s 85th birthday on May 1 by encouraging everyone to make her birthday special by donating to the Rock County Historical Society.
Although Mann was humbled by the suggestion, it took quite a bit of convincing before she acquiesced.
The Betty’s Birthday campaign netted $70,000 in donations to the Rock County Historical Society. She was shocked, thrilled and overwhelmed.
“I think that was just a testament to all of the hard work,” said Oldre of the volunteer hours Mann logs for the historical society. Meanwhile, Mann said she received birthday cards and donations from people she doesn’t even know.
Although the original $900,000 fundraising goal has been met, Mann said a meeting with the architect in late August revealed a shorage of about $150,000 based on the work to be done.
“Now we’re going to ask the community to support us for what they can give,” Mann said. “We have a very, very giving community here - we are just so fortunate.”
People will have the opportunity to contribute to the fundraising campaign during the annual meeting of the Rock County Historical Society on Sept. 15 at the site of the new museum, 312 E. Main St., Luverne. Food will be served from 5:30 to 7 p.m., including pulled pork sandwiches, baked beans, potato chips and homemade ice cream, with the annual meeting to begin at 7 p.m. A donation jar will be set out for the gathering, Mann said.
Renovation process
Oldre said the hope is that renovations will be completed by next spring. Then, all of the collections will need to be moved in and displays created. It’s desired that the museum will be open by this time next year.
Meanwhile, there is a lot of work to be done, both inside and outside the building. Oldre said the architect is working to gather bids now. Southwest Minnesota Housing Partnership is providing the architect and handling construction management for the renovation.
Once the work is done, the museum will be a showcase for all of Rock County, with each of the nine communities within the county having its own display.
What once served as the showroom when the building was a car dealership will house a Luverne-brand fire truck - and hopefully one day a Luverne-brand car.
As for the remainder of the building, the historical society has mapped out a work room for volunteers to do research and digitize articles and documents, as well as a research area for the public.
“We have an awful lot of people who stop in all the time looking for genealogy,” said Mann.
The new museum location will also have a small classroom, allowing the historical society to give presentations for school or group tours, and greatly expanded space for exhibits.

Julie Buntjer became editor of The Globe in July 2021, after working as a beat reporter at the Worthington newspaper since December 2003. She has a bachelor's degree in agriculture journalism from South Dakota State University.
What To Read Next
Get Local