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Perham museums grow with new executive hire

In continuing its efforts to strengthen two museums, Friends of the History Museum of East Otter Tail County announced hiring Darla Ellingson as its new executive director and chief operating officer.

Ellingson will manage the History Museum, In Their Own Words Veterans Museum and the White Elephant Thrift Store in Perham.

Ellingson joins the group with a wealth of experience in helping businesses thrive and grow. A recent transplant from Maui, Hawaii, Ellingson was executive director of a museum that celebrates the sugar cane industry and early plantation life in Hawaii. She also operated her own media and business consulting business for 22 years, and wrote articles about local history.

"Researching and writing about history gives us unique insight about who we are today as a community," said Ellingson. "The History Museum of East Otter Tail County has an advanced archive and geneology database that is very exciting."

Ellingson's business experience includes being involved in the start-up and on-going management of several Maui, Hawaii businesses, including: Creating a successful downtown revitalization program in cooperation with County government and USDA Rural Development; Leading the business and facility start-up of Maui Community Television, including developing three channels and productions facilities; Helping launch one of Hawaii's largest tourist attractions, Maui Ocean Center Aquarium; and Development and implementation of successful operations and facility remodel of the nearly defunct Historic Iao Theater.

In Minnesota, she most recently worked as an appraiser in the county assessor's office, and has worked as a local writer and designer and in various marketing capacities.

"Words have incredible power, and the stories of veterans contained at ITOW are moving," said Ellingson.

The role Ellingson takes on is not without its challenges. While there seems to be support that can be generated to operate both museums, funding to finish the ITOW Veterans Museum fell short of projections. But the museum board is encouraged about the future.

"Through a tremendous amount of community support, meetings and strategy sessions, the nonprofit has made significant inroads in knocking down its debt and making a sensible plan for the future," said Friends of the Museum board president Marcia Davis. "While hundreds of individuals and businesses have made generous donations towards this effort, it is also the wisdom of people like Kenny Nelson, President of KLN Family Brands, City Manager Kelsey Klemm, Arlen Kangas of Midwest Minnesota Community Development Corporation, City Attorney Dennis Happel and others, that put their heads and hearts towards helping us work out solutions."

While the organization recognizes there is still much hard work ahead, community leaders have expressed confidence in the organization's ability to move forward.

"Museums tell important stories and enrich our community, and supporting them is vital," said Kenny Nelson, president of KLN Family Brands in Perham. "Hiring a director with a diverse background and business skills like Darla Ellingson will help the nonprofit organization realize its goals."

Ellingson moved to Minnesota with her Ashby, Minnesota-born husband Stephen, and two children, Kelly, 20, and Dane, 13. Her volunteer activities include participating as a committee member for the American Legion Post 357's annual Memorial Day program, along with her husband, who is a Gulf War veteran. A Vietnam Wall memorial and video is on display in the ITOW museum, on loan from Post 357.

The nonprofit Friends of the Museum of East Otter Tail County board oversees the History Museum of East Otter Tail County, located in a historic 1887 stone church and the ITOW Veterans Museum. The White Elephant Thrift Store is attached to the ITOW, with profits going to support the museums. Both museums are located in downtown Perham. The organization is currently conducting their annual membership drive, and is also seeking volunteers.

For membership information, or to volunteer, email, or view the museum websites: or

"A robust volunteer and membership base helps strengthen the organization, and we welcome more involvement," said Ellingson. "I look forward to sharing the wonderful attributes of both museums, and being involved in the Perham community."