Richmond man has spent most of his life in the back room of the Stearns County Museum
John Decker is an archivist/researcher at the Stearns History Museum where he began working almost 40 years ago soon after he graduated from St. Cloud State University. Photo by Frank Lee
Among the aisles and aisles of items of historical significance secured in a back room at the Stearns History Museum, you’ll find John Decker, a self-professed nerd.
The 65-year-old Richmond native grew up in Cold Spring, where he still lives, and began working at the St. Cloud-based research center almost 40 years ago.
“I’ve always been fascinated by history ever since I was in elementary school,” Decker recalled.
“People kind of looked at me strange in grade school because I was reading Stearns County history books and that kind of stuff even then.”
The museum’s research center includes maps, newspapers, genealogical files, oral history tapes and more than 500,000 photographic images.
“I kind of fell into this job after I graduated,” said Decker, a husband and father of three and an archivist/researcher at the museum.
Soon after Decker graduated from St. Cloud State University in 1976, he was hired as one of the first people to work at the Stearns History Museum.
“Ever since we went electronic, it’s been growing,” he said of the public’s interest in the museum, which can also assist those involved in genealogy research in Stearns County.
Museum resources include naturalization papers, census records, plat maps, St. Cloud directories, town and parish histories, regional school annuals and studio portraits.
“I think if you don’t understand what’s happened in the past, you are doomed to repeat it,” Decker said.
“And I’ve see a passion in figuring out where you’re from, and it gets interesting when you involve personalities — what they’ve done and what they haven’t done.”
Glanville Smith was a St. Cloud native who lived in Cold Spring. Born in 1901, the former president of the Stearns Historical Society died in 1987 and left his diaries to the museum.
“He started writing in high school and never really stopped writing,” Decker said of his mentor. “As a teenager, he was in the first graduating class of Technical High School.”
The Stearns History Museum’s research center in St. Cloud includes maps, newspapers, genealogical files, oral history tapes and more than 500,000 images. Pictured is John Decker, archivist/researcher. Photo by Frank Lee
Decker’s ongoing role as an archivist at the Stearns History Museum’s resource center involves waging a war against the ravages of time and the elements of nature.
“The challenge is temperature control — trying to keep the temperature as even as possible when you save something, store it or exhibit it — and humidity control,” he said.
The museum also encapsulates some of its documents in its collection in Mylar, a non-acidic polyester film or plastic sheet, to preserve them for future generations.
“That’s something that’s really nice because it gives them some support to handle it with your fingers — your fingers have oils — and it protects the items from dust,” Decker said.
The photo collections, library and archives at the research center number more than 21,000, according to the museum.
“We actually put items in buffered envelopes — pictures, photographs — separately because of acid; if you put photos together, the acid will actually bleed or transfer color.”
The historical society was originally housed in the third floor of the Stearns County Courthouse before it found a permanent home on 33rd Avenue South in St. Cloud.
“We all try to stay on the same page as to what we should collect … but whatever we collect, it has to deal with local or the county,” he said of his archivist role at the museum.
The Myron Hall collection at the museum includes 273,000 images that Hall donated in 1987 and is one of the largest photography collections in the state, according to Decker.
“Myron was a St. Cloud Times photographer from 1937 to 1976; he’s actually the recorder of our visual history in Stearns County as well as central Minnesota,” he said.
The Stearns History Museum’s research center also specializes in historical information about Stearns County’s granite and dairy industries, sports and architecture.
“We also collect the general histories of businesses, churches, schools, towns — that type of thing,” Decker said.
“We try to preserve as much as we can but also try to have it available to the general public.”