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Michelle's column: Planning a bittersweet vacation

I looked at the calendar Monday morning, and realized it was, in fact, Aug. 12.

Yep. It was Aug. 12. And I had exactly nine days to finish up all of the prep work I have to do before the Minnesota State Fair opens and the Minnesota Newspaper Museum opens its doors for what could be our last year.

Normally, I'm pretty excited for the beginning of the fair. I've worked out there, in one capacity or another, since 1986. I take vacation for the fair. That's how much I love it.

Back in 2004, I volunteered for my first shift at the Minnesota Letterpress Museum, located in Heritage Square. One shift became three that year. Three became five the next year. Five became nine the year after that. Finally, in 2010, the Minnesota Newspaper Foundation — the museum's governing board — made me an on-site building coordinator of sorts. A year later, I became volunteer coordinator.

You know that place you go, mentally, when you hear news you're not prepared for? That place of denial, some confusion, where you know you've heard bad news, but you can't process it? That's where I was July 24, when my good friend Roger, the building manager, called to tell me that Heritage Square would be razed after the 2013 state fair.

And with it, our beloved museum would likely go.

The Minnesota State Fair has announced its plans to build a transit hub where Heritage Square is now located. I guess there are plans to build a market, so some of the other vendors in Heritage Square might still be able to do business.

But the museum? Well, things aren't looking good. The MNF board of directors sought a quote to move our brick building elsewhere on the fairgrounds. Unless someone comes forward with a donation of $80,000, it's likely that move won't happen.

So now, I'm working on my scheduling, but it's not with the same enthusiasm I've had in the past. It's one of the more bittersweet tasks I've had to undertake in a while.

The volunteers I work with are simply wonderful. They come from all around the state, and a few even come from out of state. They're retired printers, retired linotype operators. They're current editors and writers, they're letterpress studio owners. They're people who have wandered through the building in the past and thought it looked like it might be fun to volunteer. They drive hours in some cases, make arrangements to stay overnight with family or friends, or rent hotel rooms if necessary.

I love hearing back from our volunteers. So nothing has ripped at me more this year — so far — than getting their registration sheets back. Many of them have included personal notes about how they're looking forward to coming to the fair and the museum. Their notes make me smile, and the notes warm my heart.

But this year, they break my heart a little bit, too.

I'll be gone for two weeks now, as I'll be at the museum for four days before the fair opens. We have to clean. Roger's a retired linotype mechanic, and he's the guy who is going to set all of the copy — line by line (hence, the name "linotype") — for the possible last issue of The Maynard News. The Maynard News is the newspaper we publish there, using linotypes and a hand-fed Miehle two cylinder printing press.

But make no mistake, when the doors open on Aug. 22, we'll have a group of dedicated volunteers there, running antique printing equipment and demonstrating how newspapers were made in the early 1900s. We'll be making pressman's caps, and our job presses will be cranking out bookmarks and postcards.

And when it's all over, I'll come back to Farmington. Forgive me, that week, if I'm a little sad. I may have just said goodbye to an important part of my life.

Michelle Leonard

Michelle Leonard joined the Woodbury Bulletin staff in November, 2014, after 14 years covering news for the Bulletin's sister publication, the Farmington Rosemount Independent Town Pages.  Michelle earned her Bachelor of Science degree in Mass Communications: News-Editorial from Mankato State University in 1991. She is an active member of the American Legion Auxiliary Clifford Larson Unit 189 of Farmington, and served as the 2014-15 Third District President to the American Legion Auxiliary Department of Minnesota. Michelle is also the volunteer coordinator for the Minnesota Newspaper Museum which is open annually during the Minnesota State Fair. She has earned Minnesota Newspaper Association awards in Investigative Reporting, Local News Coverage, Feature Photography and Column Writing. 

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