Chris Schuelke arrived in Otter Tail County in February of 1989, driving a 1976 Pinto from Whitewater, Wisconsin, with his young family to start a new job as curator of the Otter Tail County Historical Society (OTCHS). On Thursday, Dec. 13, the OTCHS board honored Schuelke at the final board meeting of the year, which coincided with Schuelke’s birthday, with a plaque expressing their gratitude for his, “30 years of dedicated service and stewardship of Otter Tail County’s history, culture and heritage.”
Schuelke graduated from the University of Wisconsin - Platteville with a Bachelor of Science in history and political science, and then attended Eastern Illinois University for a Master of Arts in historical administration. He worked as a curatorial assistant for the Coles County Historical Society in Charleston, Illinois, and then worked for the State Historical Society of Wisconsin. He was the curator of the OTCHS until 1991, when he became the executive director following the resignation of Rick Wilson. As curator, he began the annual courthouse lunch/band concert that continues on to this day.
“Chris is just such a phenomenal guy, his leadership and vision for preserving the history of the county and west-central Minnesota is just really, really something that we’ve been fortunate to have over the years,” said Wayne Hurley, president of the OTCHS Board of Directors. “You don’t see that kind of longevity in folks in positions very often anymore, so to have him for 30 years, we’re lucky to have him and I’d love to keep him for another 30.”
Schuelke’s responsibilities include creating and researching exhibits, organizing town and county tours, managing the fiscal health of the organization and managing the staff of five people, employees he’s proud have stuck by the OTCHS for many years. “I’m really proud of that, I think everyone is very dedicated to the organization,” he says.
Schuelke also meets with the state about historic preservation issues, is involved with the Minnesota Alliance of Local History Museums and is on the Minnesota State Historic Preservation Review Board. In 2018, OTCHS won the Minnesota History Award for their work with the 105th anniversary of Otter Tail County. Schuelke also founded the Hotel Kaddatz Preservation Association with Mark Sundberg when the building was under threat in 1990. With the help of the community and the city, they were able to save, repair and renovate the building.
Michele Anderson, vicepresident of the OTCHS Board of Directors, says, “He really models what a strong community collaborator looks like. I know that he’s really open-minded, people come to him with a lot of unique requests but he’s always willing to listen and help connect people to what they need to be connected with. I think he’s also just bringing really creative ways for people to engage with history, like with his Downtown Mystery Tours and Halloween events.”
Over the last 30 years, Schuelke says his favorite exhibit has been this year’s cyclone exhibit. “I’ve been especially proud of that, and the response has been gratifying,” he says, before doing what he always does-- not one to simply accept compliments or glory, Schuelke thanks those who helped: “You have to credit to Kathy Evavold, who’s the curator, LeAnn (Neuleib) who did a lot of the graphics and Missy (Hermes) who does a lot of the programming-- everything is a team effort, it’s not one person, it’s definitely a team effort,” he says.