History is so much more than names and dates. Spend a few minutes with Emily Nelson, the new La Porte City FFA Historical & Ag Museum director, and you’ll soon discover the enthusiasm and passion she has for talking about history and helping others experience it in new and meaningful ways.
Nelson recently relocated to La Porte City with her husband, Nathan, the new pastor at American Lutheran Church. After several years living in North Dakota and Montana, the move to La Porte City brings the couple much closer to their hometowns. For Emily, it’s just a few hours driving distance to the farm she grew up on in Illinois.
While in Big Sky Country, her experiences working at two national parks, Theodore Roosevelt National Park and Glacier National Park, helped prepare her for her new role at Iowa’s first FFA museum. As a Museum Technician at Theodore National Park, her work there developed skills essential for museum work- caring for the collections, managing acquisitions and inventory, cataloging portions of the collection, monitoring environmental conditions, responding to research requests, even caring for a cabin built in 1880s that had been relocated to the park. She also worked diligently to make more of the park’s archives accessible to the public and park personnel, by digitizing photos and other documents.
At Glacier, her love for talking about history was a perfect match for the job as an interpretive ranger. While every day was different, Emily enjoyed leading hikes and historical walking tours, where she had to be ready for anything, including grizzly bears. Wildlife notwithstanding, the opportunity to research and develop presentations that helped visitors make special connections with the national park was work she found to be extremely satisfying.
“That’s why [interpretive rangers] love what they do. You’re constantly learning,” she explained.
It’s work she looks forward to doing in La Porte City, as well.
“One of the best things about interpreting history for the public is you never know what is going to capture somebody’s interest. You just never know,” she added.
Just weeks into her new duties, Emily has a great appreciation for those who have come before her, investing a tremendous amount time and energy in getting La Porte City’s museum to where it is today.
“It’s really quite incredible to have such a group of dedicated people who have been a part of this for so long,” she said.
As Emily begins to learn more about her new community, she is eager to find out what stories La Porte City has to tell and how the museum can best share them in a way that is meaningful to its visitors.
Why are we special? Why are we unique? These are some of the questions museums are well qualified to answer, she noted.
“We have such a unique ability, through the items in the collection, such a unique way of making history come alive, making it tangible, of opening up doors to stories that people might not have any idea about,” she said.
“We [the museum] are the place that tells the story of La Porte City. Local history is very important. It’s a great way to engage people with the past because it’s immediate. You see things all around you. You see a landscape that tells a story,” Emily added.
It’s a story she very much looks forward to telling.