Gail Dalager's temporary, part-time job helping out at the Renville County Museum turned into far more; she now helps people all over the world find their roots in the Morton area.
Four years ago, when Gail Dalager of Redwood Falls was downsized out of her job in the electronics industry, she wasn’t sure where to try next.
“I loved working at Daktronics, putting electronic signs together,” she said several weeks ago.
“I was in the finishing part, and it was fun watching signs go from an empty shell to a finished product.
“When we did the signs for the Twins stadium, we were so excited all of us wrote our names on the inside of the signs, so when they do maintenance, the can see who made the signs,” she said.
However, nothing lasts forever. Finding herself jobless, Dalager contacted Experience Works, an organization that co-sponsors jobs for those those 55 and older.
She had a lot to offer them. Originally from the Granite Falls area, over the years she has worked in everything from real estate to restaurant kitchens to adult training services.
Experience Works checked its files, and asked, would she be interested in a temporary, part-time job helping out at the Renville County Museum?
Dalager decided to give it a try. It turned out some of the skills she used helping manufacture state-of-the-art electronics were also useful taking care of artifacts in a museum.
Before she started at the museum, Dalager didn’t have much interest in or knowledge of the area’s history.
“When I was in Granite Falls selling real estate, someone left a book about the War of 1862,” she said. “It was my first learning experience about it.
“Then when I came here, I’ve read every book about it we have. It helps to have a picture of both sides, and to see the other person’s point.”
Being detail-oriented and, well, kind of fussy about wanting to get things right, come in handy with both.
A year later, when her contract with Experience Works ran out, then-museum director Carl Colwell made her an offer: would she be interested in staying on at the museum, for more hours and a raise?
Much of Dalager’s time at the museum is spent answering phone calls and emails — from all over the world.
“I’ll get calls from Norway or Germany, from people looking for relatives who immigrated here,” she said.
“I do research about families, schools, businesses, townships — they all have separate files,” she said.
Adding to the challenge is that information about a person might be spread across a variety of categories. It’s her job to find them all.
“I get calls asking, ‘Do you have any information about this family?’” Dalager said.
“Once I did some family research and called back to tell about a person I had found. The lady at the other end started crying, and saying, ‘I didn’t even know that person existed!’”
Despite her background in electronics, Dalager was intimidated by having to enter material in the museum’s computer system.
“Carl said, ‘You can’t wreck it! Don’t worry!’” Dalager laughed.
“I”m the sort of person who, when I get in a car, has to try out all the buttons to see how everything works. You can’t let that computer screen scare you. You have to just find your way back.”
When the museum was being remodeled several years ago, Dalager not only helped set up new displays, she suggested some.
“I thought we should have a sitting area,” she said. “When we went through all the town displays, Carl gave me carte blanche to rearrange everything. I got to go through all the old stuff, and it was really exciting.”
Dalager is also responsible for the Renville County Historical Society’s newsletter, and sending cards and mailings to the society’s 500 or so members spread out all across the United States.
When people donate papers and artifacts to the museum, it’s Dalager who draws up the paperwork and files the items away.
What is Dalager’s favorite part of working at the museum?
“The change. You’re always doing something new. As you get older, you have to keep forging ahead and not get into a rut where you’re too comfortable. if you’re comfortable there, shake yourself up — otherwise you’ll die there.”