Goodbye to John Kuester
Our dear friend John Kuester passed away suddenly on February 2, 2019. John was a long-time board member and a founder of the Friends of the Kelley Farm, as well as former President of the Friends.
John was an astute strategist, devoted to community and historic preservation both as a volunteer and in his career, and sought to serve the common good and improve life for all. In addition to lending his hands and time to work, John became a mentor to many, including within the Friends group. Nancy Benz said she was surprised when John nominated her for vice-president of the Friends that first year, because of John’s confidence in her after only a few encounters: “John believed in me before I believed in myself.”
After the initial success of “saving the farm” from closure, John worked tirelessly on development meetings and lobbied for funding for the new visitor center. John was wise and insightful yet had a sense of humor that lightened meetings. His quiet, listening form of leadership provided strong guidance. His caring demeanor offered comfort to those working alongside him, and his creative solutions leant energy to positive, forward action. Kristen Schrader appreciated that John’s answer to her question of “How are you?” was often “Perky!” Donna Champion said she will most miss John’s constant presence and willingness to help. He had a knack for welcoming all people, soliciting their ideas, and listening with an open mind.
John had early connections and a life-long love for farming families, their land, associated labor and animals. He was a grand story-teller, and loved to tell of his pig, Henrietta, with whom he had a great summer as a youngster even as he knew her role would ultimately place her in the freezer. John was always willing to help people, whether in putting up wood, lifting a 40 foot wall, or screed-ing newly dumped concrete into a foundation or sidewalk. John was an avid gardener, traveler, reader, and enjoyed an eclectic range of music.
John was the beloved husband of Louise, father to Erin (Todd) and Gretchen (Eric), and grandfather to Sam and Mikkel. He traipsed throughout the Kelley Farm with Sam and Mikkel, hand-pumping water or watching the pigs forage in the woods or observing the horses on the threshing treadmill.
On the day that he died John Kuester had been at a meeting with Friends board members and MHS corporate staff regarding Kelley Farm future goals. He spoke with eloquence and passion, soliciting collaboration between the organizations present. John, wearing his red and black flannel shirt, shared his engaging smile, listened attentively to each person that spoke, and advocated for meaningful and welcoming outreach by the Farm to surrounding communities.
We miss this Friend who was a friend to us all.
Fond Farewell to Bob Quist
Bob Quist’s tenure as Kelley Farm Site Manager ended in November 2018. Bob started as a site interpreter in 1986 after receiving a B.A. from the University of Minnesota Morris with majors in biology and English. Bob grew up working on his grandparents’ and uncles’ farms, handling hogs, dairy, crops, and horses. He volunteered to harvest grain and fix farm equipment near Morris in exchange for hunting pheasant on the farmers’ land.
Bob remembers fondly his early years at the Kelley Farm, working alongside Tom Woods, the visionary who developed initial Farm programming. Woods was given free rein to create a living history museum patterned after the best living history sites in the U.S. The Kelley Farm was unique because it was 189 acres in a slightly rural and ex-suburban area. Woods used academic historical research, but also hired people to teach staff how to do the physical tasks of farming from the 1860’s. There is truly an art to most farming tasks and this oral history was passed down to staff directly from someone who lived it. Bob revered the combination of hard, manual labor with academic rigor, stating that Tom infused intellectualism with the physicality of the site.
Bob Quist became assistant site manager in 1989 under Jim Mattson; Tom Woods had moved to a corporate MHS role. “Tom had created a program that was always a working farm; this quality transcended the museum-quality. There were not pets, only livestock. It set a tone of authenticity that really gave people who are involved in agriculture across the state a sense that this place is serious and not a petting-zoo.” Jim and Bob grew the program over the next ten years. Bob became acting Site Manager in 2002 with Ann Olson Bercher, a creative, long-serving staff member, as assistant site manager. Bob described a fluid program, evolving from Tom’s days, altering as the audience changed, as new research became available, and as the staff changed.
When the November 2002 budget forecast looked dire, Bob anticipated the threat of Farm closure. When Bob received the MHS management call in 2003 that the Kelley Farm would be closed, he told his staff that his role had shifted from being their manager to making sure the Kelley Farm didn’t close so that they could keep their jobs. At a public meeting in Elk River regarding the closure of the Kelley Farm “quite a community stood up”; ultimately this group led efforts to save the farm and formed the ongoing Friends of the Kelley Farm. Bob treasures the stories of connection, how the community saved the farm, the meetings about new facility development, the day he received the call that the bonding bill had passed, and the morning the staff first moved into the new visitor center. He stood at the door that day and took pictures of the facial expressions of each staff member.
When asked what characteristics of Oliver Kelley that he most appreciated, Bob immediately said “his approach to experimentation.” Oliver Kelley would decide to try a new crop, document his complete experience with that crop, and then share the information with others. “We would call it science today. Oliver Kelley didn’t have tradition to give up, so he was looking for something. He had a scientific approach to things. He promoted and believed in his community. He was building town sites, granted some of that was for financial gain, but he was building farm organizations for the sake of community. I also appreciated Oliver Kelley’s wry sense of humor.”
When Bob Quist looks back on his 32 years serving the Oliver Kelley Farm, he takes most pride in carrying on and growing the vision of Tom Woods and re-connecting the Kelley Farm with the community. He said the Farm has become more embedded into the community through the saving of the farm, the growth of the farm, and the growth of the Friends of the Kelley Farm. He is gratified that the Friends are still an active part of the community, and he takes pride in the development, launching, and support of many people’s careers.