Nineteen-year-old Darbi Renaud may be short on experience but is full of ambition when it comes to taking on her new role as Executive Director of the Kanabec History Center. 

Renaud has worked at the Kanabec History Center since August 2019, officially being named Executive Director on Oct. 1 after the former director, Wendy Quinn, retired. 

Thus far she has hit the ground running by hosting a Halloween Scavenger “Haunt” where visitors could access the history center exhibits at reduced admission costs and left with bags stuffed with treats and prizes. 

Although the ballot question to establish a $30,000 special tax levy to fund the Kanabec History Center failed on Nov. 3,  Darbi said she will continue fundraising to support the center’s operations until they can pursue a second attempt. Renaud’s biggest challenge ahead will be finding the funds to keep the center open until then. 

The Kanabec County Times asked Renaud to share more about her experience and goals for the Kanabec History Center moving forward:

Tell us about your educational background and experience:

I received my high school diploma from Mora High School, and I’ll be graduating from Anoka-Ramsey Community College this coming spring with an AFA degree in Creative Writing. I’m also planning to get a BA in Writing from University of Wisconsin Superior next.

You mentioned that you are 19 — pretty young to hold the position of Executive Director. What experience or knowledge do you have that make you a good fit for the position?:

My age is definitely a head-turner when it comes to my job at KHC. Because I was hired with the intention of replacing Wendy when she eventually retired, I’ve been training to take on the role from day one. I gained (and continue to gain) a lot of experience from working with the incredible people within KCHS/KHC and other organizations. 

I also studied and explored intensively (and still do so) to understand as much as possible about running businesses and nonprofits. Some things were really easy to get the hang of and some lessons were hard-learned, but overall, a great deal of research, preparation and my time training at the Center have become a well of knowledge that continues to grow exponentially.

Tell us more about the KHC Tax Levy and why you believe it is necessary: 

Because we are a nonprofit county historical society, KCHS/KHC doesn’t get any federal or state funding. There’s also no local funding required by law. While we do get some funding from the city, townships and individual donors, all of which we greatly appreciate, it’s not enough to fully support us, and we don’t make enough in other income to run in the black. KCHS/KHC has done a lot in an ongoing effort to keep afloat. Unfortunately, though, we just aren’t making enough significant, consistent money to stay open.

The levy would bring in about $30,000 annually for the History Center—but for most Kanabec County residents, it would only cost $3-$5 in property taxes per year.

KCHS/KHC was started by county residents for county residents. Our purpose is to collect, protect and provide access to the history of this community. We preserve the stories and experiences of the people and places in Kanabec County—the families, friends, adventurers and homebodies who built our community and continue to make it what it is.

Without the levy, we’re facing a severe forfeiture in community involvement and accessibility, and near-inevitable closure. Closure for us means the deaccessioning of our museum and losing over one hundred years of Kanabec County’s history. This loss to our community and the loss of the precious stories we protect at KHC would be heartbreaking to so many people. That’s why we’re doing everything we can to prevent closing.

Besides the levy, what do you see as the biggest challenges for the KHC?

Our financial situation has been our biggest challenge for decades. The next biggest challenge is re-establishing KHC in the community and becoming more involved. 

It’s hard to call this an obstacle when many individuals, groups and businesses are so helpful and eager to work with us, but financial restrictions place limitations on the kinds of activities and events we can host and participate in. Despite that, we’re so excited to rise to the challenge.

What kind of involvement would you like to see the KHC have in the community or visa versa: How would you like to see the community involved with KHC?:

We want to expand KHC’s services and attraction to the community and increase community involvement. We want people to know we’re here and that we’re a great resource for both recreation and learning. We’re especially keen to be involved with the schools and other organizations and event holders.

This community already does a lot for us, but we’re striving to make our interactions and presence more active and lively.  

What are your goals/hopes/plans for KHC? What would you need to achieve them?:

I plan to develop KHC into a place that isn’t unknown or easily forgotten. There’s so much potential here and I want to see the Society/Center thrive. There are 100 different projects to work on, 100 prosperous dreams I have for this place, and I want to get the chance to see them through (or at least see them off). 

As passionate as I am about KHC, it’s not my intention to stay here forever. My biggest hope is that I leave KCHS/KHC with a bright future and in the best possible hands.

Is there anything else you would like to mention about yourself or the KHC?:

I’d like to thank everyone who has supported and is currently supporting KCHS/KHC. We have a remarkable team of KHC’s Board, staff and associates. We wouldn’t be here without the support of the people within this community, and I certainly wouldn’t be here without the support I’ve gotten, so I want to say thank you to everyone who has dedicated funding and/or their time to helping us. We’re immensely grateful. 

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The Kanabec History Center is a 501(c)3 nonprofit museum operated by the Kanabec County Historical Society.  The Kanabec History Center is open Tuesday through Friday from 10 a.m.-4:30 p.m. at 805 Forest Avenue West, Mora. 

For more information including how to volunteer or donate to support the KHC, call 320-679-1665, email center@kanabechistory.org  or visit www.kanabechistory.org.

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