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‘I can’t really fill his shoes’: Rochester native to head Winona history center

May 3, 2019

With Executive Director Mark Peterson set to step down after 36-plus years leading the Winona County Historical Society, the organization has named his replacement.

Genia Hesser, who grew up in Rochester, has been named executive director. She takes over the post on June 3.

Hesser said taking over for someone who’s done the job for more than three decades can be a little intimidating.

“I can’t really fill his shoes,” she said. “I have to wear my own shoes. The exciting thing is he’s built, with his staff and the board of directors, a strong, engaged historical society.”

Having a board that is involved in the community, she said, will help make that transition from Peterson’s years to her leadership easier.

After a summer job for the Minnesota Historical Society at Historic Forestville piqued her interest in history, Hesser received a masters degree in historical administration from Eastern Illinois University.

After that, she was hired by the State Historical Society of North Dakota and worked as a site supervisor at the Fort Buford State Historic Site for three years. She then became the curator of exhibits for the SHSND, working at the Heritage Center and North Dakota State Museum.

“I think that’s one of the great things about historical societies is they are one of the democratic forms of education,” she said. “The history is there for everybody to research.”

Despite his mixed emotions about retiring -- “I still look forward to going to work every day” -- Peterson said he just plans to step aside and let Hesser establish herself and her own style in running the history center.

“One of the things I’m planning on continuing to do is city tours,” Peterson said. “I’ll continue to support the historical society and help the new director in any way possible.”

Peterson said the $4.5 million addition to the history center is one of his biggest accomplishments during his tenure. But now he hopes to focus on his other job, being mayor of Winona.

“I’ve got plenty to do,” he said. “I’ve got six and a half years of projects to work on.”

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