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Paynesville Press - June 2, 2004

Zniewski honored at banquet for museum legacy

By Michael Jacobson

Bertha Zniewski, the first president of the Paynesville Historical Society, who served as curator of the local museum for nearly 35 years, was honored last week at a retirement banquet. Zniewski was the driving force behind the Paynesville Area Historical Museum, which the local historical society operates.

Bertha Z. - Paynesville Area Historical Society "It is her museum," said Dave Ebnet, the director of the Stearns County Historical Society. "It will always be her museum."

At the banquet, Zniewski was given the first Heritage Award from the Paynesville Area Chamber of Commerce for her dedication in preserving and showcasing the community's history, according to Chamber president Ann Johnson.

After 35 years with the Paynesville Historical Society, Bertha Zniewski has retired.

"I really enjoyed these 35 years," said Zniewski. "Of course, I didn't know I would stay at it that long."

Zniewski said she enjoyed every minute of working with the historical society and with the museum. "I'm glad to say I helped it. Everybody helped. I can't start mentioning names because I would forget," she said.

Others who spoke about Zniewski at the banquet, attended by 70 people, were: historical society president Paul Bugbee, long-time board members Ralph Fleischhacker and Leroy Hillbrand, and Mayor Jeff Thompson.

The Paynesville Historical Society was born in October 1969 at the instigation of the Paynesville Lions Club. Zniewski was chosen as the board's first president.

The historical society began gathering historical artifacts and within months had filled a city building with donated artifacts. People were so eager to donate that the police department would call Zniewski at home and ask her to come downtown and clear the sidewalks of donated materials.

In July 1970, the historical society purchased the old Methodist church along Highway 23 in Paynesville, started to move items from the downtown building, and began organizing the museum into historical displays.

The museum was located at the old church for 25 years. In 1996, the historical society purchased a new building along Highway 23 on the east side of Paynesville.

The museum has built an archive of more than 9,000 artifacts. It includes exhibits covering the history of Paynesville, starting with the settling of the early town in the 1850s; rival North Town; and the arrival of the railroads around the turn of the century and the establishment of New Paynesville, where the current downtown is located.

The museum also traces the history of the area in agriculture, churches, lakes, medicine, Native Americans, technology, and transportation and includes exhibits about everyday life, such as clothing, cooking, and entertainment.

The best compliment for a curator is having "good stuff," meaning quality artifacts, said Ebnet. "You've got 'good stuff' in Paynesville," said Ebnet.

Zniewski also helped revitalize the Stearns County Historical Society in the 1970s by suggesting that the county museum be moved to Paynesville. Eventually, a new Stearns County History Museum was built in St. Cloud. Zniewski also served as a director for Stearns County Historical Society from 1974 to 1984.

Zniewski was born in Paynesville, raised in St. Cloud, and moved to Paynesville with her husband in 1948. They operated a photography studio in Paynesville for 48 years.

A widow since 1998, Zniewski has called the museum her life's work.

In addition to the museum, her interest in history has led her to write genealogy books about both sides of her family (all her grandparents lived in Paynesville), to collect over 10,000 buttons, and to belong to an American Indian history group. She is currently finishing another genealogy book about her husband's family.

Zniewski will be replaced as the museum director by Delores Hislop, who has worked several summers at the local museum. The Paynesville Area Historical Museum is open from Memorial Day to Labor Day from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Tuesdays through Saturdays and from 1 to 4 p..m. on Sundays.

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