County museum exhibit planned on Hannah KempferPublished 11:13am Monday, December 3, 2012
Hannah Jensen Kempfer rose from poverty to being an influential legislator in the Minnesota House of Representatives. The Otter Tail County Historical Society is redesigning an existing log cabin inside the museum and creating new exhibits to tell the story of this incredible figure in state history.
Born on a ship in the North Sea, Kempfer was adopted by a Norwegian family that immigrated to the United States in 1885. Her family settled in Minnesota and squatted a piece of railroad land where she grew up in a family of four in poverty in a log cabin smaller than the one in the museum.
Kempfer became a teacher at a tiny rural schoolhouse. A new hands-on exhibit will allow kids to stir a soup pot while learning about Kempfer.
“She was known as the hot lunch teacher,” said Missy Hermes, OTCHS Education Coordinator. “She grew up very poor, and remembered going to school hungry or with just a cold sandwich. As a teacher, she would bring in a few items for soup, and start a stock pot in the classroom. By lunchtime, the students could share a hot lunch.”
A time-line of Kempfer’s life is planned for the cabin walls, including her political career. As a legislator, Kempfer championed the rights of children and fought for the conservation of natural resources. She introduced legislation to protect the Showy Lady’s slipper, Minnesota’s state flower and supported stocking area lakes for fishing.
“She ran for office before the time of radio and TV,” said Hermes. “People can see election cards that would have been used.”
One of the donors supporting the exhibit is the Fergus Falls Sertoma Club — a group that helps improve the quality of life for those at impacted by hearing loss. A future part of the exhibit may contain a hearing component, such as a dramatic reading of one of Kempfer’s political speeches.
Hannah Kempfer exhibits are expected to be ready by spring. The Historical Society hopes to raise additional funds to furnish the cabin and aide in development of interactive educational tools highlighting Kempfer’s life.
“Hannah Kempfer opitimizes the American dream of rising from nothing to being an influential figure,” said said OTC Historical Society Executive Director Chris Schuelke. “She was not wealthy — she was more interested in helping children and adults so they didn’t have to go through what she went through.”
If you would like to make a donation toward establishment of the Kempfer cabin exhibits, you can call the OTC Historical Society at 218-736-6038.