Representatives from the Idaho State Historical Society, the Idaho Humanities Council and Idaho Heritage Trust gathered at the Monastery on Thursday, December 16 to present the Historical Museum with the 2010 Sister Alfreda Elsensohn Award for Outstanding Service. Also among those gathered were Idaho County Commissioner Jim Rehder and Cottonwood Mayor Denis Duman.
Gathering in the Mother Johanna room at Spirit Center, Idaho State Historian Keith Peterson opened the ceremony. He explained how the three organizations came together to create this award that honors museums as keepers of Idaho’s culture. He thanked the Monastery for allowing them to name the award after Idaho historian and Museum founder Sister Alfreda Elsensohn, and said, “Now in its third year, it seems very appropriate to bring the award home.”
Gaitha Pace, Executive Director of Idaho Heritage Trust, thanked the Sisters for creating such a peaceful place and then spoke about the remarkable endurance of small museums. “These places bore witness to our lives,” she said. “They help people know from their youth that they are not alone and their ancestors are standing by.”
Earl Bennett, a trustee of the Idaho State Historical Society, spoke about the importance of stories. “If you don’t have stories to go with the artifacts, you don’t have a museum -- you just have stuff,” he said. “What a magnificent job you have done.”
Then Chris Riggs of the Idaho Humanities Council presented Museum Director Lyle Wirtanen with a check. Lyle then spoke about the contributions of the Sisters, the gratitude the Museum holds for the award and the goals that the $10,000 award will allow the Museum to achieve. With Lyle retiring as director at the end of the year, many of the speakers took the opportunity to honor his work. “Lyle has brought the museum to a significant new level of professionalism,” said Keith Peterson.
Prioress Sister Clarissa Goeckner, in her address, said that Sister Alfreda “would be so impressed that the museum, through its educational and cultural events gives a strong invitation to enter into conversations that will bring about reconciliation, healing and peace. I am referring to the ‘Diplomacy, Sovereignty and Spirituality Symposium’ with the Nez Perce tribe and the three annual conferences of history of the Chinese in Idaho…This award and recognition will only encourage us to continue in the direction of making connections, linking present with the past and giving service.”
Then Associate Museum Director Sister Mary Marge Goeckner recalled how the museum began in an attic, then moved to the basement and eventually to its present building, that was built through the vision of the Sisters. She explained how Sister Alfreda worked with her students to build the collection and teach them about where they lived. “She would still challenge all of us,” said Sister Mary Marge. “She was a woman ahead of her time.”