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Mr. museum

Rugby’s Blessum volunteers countless hours at the Prairie Village Museum

July 30, 2010
Matt Mullally

Richard Blessum doesn't get his mail delivered to the Prairie Village Museum, but you could say the Rugby attraction is like a second home for the 84-year-old.

"I'm not someone who can sit around the house, so they've put up with me long enough out here to allow me to stay,' quipped Blessum

He certainly has earned his keep, giving much of his time and talents over the years to improving the museum which has been open for nearly 50 years.

Blessum farmed north of Rugby for a number of years as well as owned a small woodworking shop. After closing his shop in 1968, he began working at the museum full-time and for a period of several years he served as curator. For many years Richard was also on the board of directors of the Geographical Center Historical Society, which oversaw the museum.

Pam Schmitt, curator, said Richard's quite the handyman and his carpentry skills are a big asset when it comes to building projects. His expertise and labor has saved the museum thousands of dollars over the years. Blessum credits learning that trade from his father who was quite a craftsman.

Richard is the so-called resident expert when it comes to pinpointing the dates when exhibits were first housed at the museum and when building repairs were made.

"However, this encyclopedia up here isn't as sharp as it once was,' Blessum joked as he pointed to his brain.

Over the years he's helped to bring new features to the museum, including the construction of the general store, a project he's particularly proud of.

Blessum said the museum had a lot of "general store-type items" located in the Silva School but that just wasn't an ideal location to display them, so the decision was made to build a general store.

"Henry Thompson (of the Wolford area) and I built it, Richard recalls.

The museum was lucky to get the fixtures and some show cases from an old general store from the area that was being torn down. He also helped to build the museum's bandstand in 1985 and over the years helped complete routine maintenance

Schmitt, who took over as curator from Blessum, said she's learned quite a bit from him over the years.

There are few museums across the state which feature such an extensive collection of antiques and collectibles and Rugby is fortunate to have one, said Richard. The credit goes to the foresight of residents long ago who saw the value of having such an attraction locally.

Blessum not only has given much of this time to the museum, but he's also donated or loaned many exhibits - some 300.

One of them is a John Deere "B" - the first tractor he drove as a kid working on his family's farm.

While the museum is a glimpse into the past with its furnished prairie village and displays of tools and items used by early settlers, it also features many diverse collections that are quite current. "There is really something for everyone out here,' he said.

The museum annually draws visitors from every state and many countries. So far, people representing 43 states and 15 countries have passed through its doors this year.

One of things Richard enjoys is meeting interesting and friendly people who tour the grounds.

"Many of them rave about this place and just how much there is to see,' he said. "They are also impressed with how accessible the items are and how clean things are kept."

Blessum hopes more local residents realize the community treasure they have in the museum.

On Sunday, Aug. 8 the museum will hold it 25th Village Fair, a one-day event filled with musical entertainment, pioneer demonstrations, food and plenty of other fun activities. Blessum recalls the very first one and said it actually drew more than the first Norsk Hostfest in Minot.

One of the highlights Blessum said was a staged gunfight along the boardwalk in the prairie village with the actors dressed in old west attire. "That was a real hit with crowds,' he said.

Over the years other unique entertainment has been tried to keep the event fresh and crowds coming back.

The fact the Village Fair continues to be an annual attraction for many in the region is a credit to Schmitt and the other staff and volunteers who plan and take part in the event, he adds.

Blessum is looking forward to again being a part of it and looks forward to many more years helping at the museum.

"I've got to keep busy and there is plenty of things to do around here,' he said.



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