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Two years of research and development have come to a conclusion.

The new Monroe County Local History Room and Museum exhibit Monroe County A to Z was unveiled to the public June 28.

Jarrod Roll, history room director and county historian, said the idea for a new core exhibit has been a long time coming. He said the previous one was out of date.

“I wanted to have something different on that side of the museum because it was outdated, and we really didn’t have an exhibit that encompassed the whole county (and) that was kind of an introduction to the county,” he said.

The exhibit is based on the history room’s program for preschoolers and kindergartners, said Monroe County ABC’s, Hannah Scholze, history room museum services associate. It was one of the many ideas she and Roll brainstormed for the new exhibit.

“It was just a simple concept, a children’s ABC book where each letter represents something about the area,” she said. “Some of those letter associations are the same with the exhibit, but others are different just because it’s geared toward a different audience, an older audience.”

Some of the topics that carried over from the history room program are A for astronaut, B for bike trail and C for cranberries, Scholze said. Two that are particular to the exhibit are O for orphans for the Wisconsin Child Care Center and T for tobacco, a cash crop grown for about a century in the county.

After determining a concept, Roll and Scholze created and narrowed down a list of topics and assigned them to a letter of the alphabet. Then they had to determine the topic’s essential idea and figure out what artifacts and images from the museum’s collection could be used.

They also had to figure out what kind of interactive, hands-on element could be used to reinforce the topic and to make it memorable, Roll said.

Mock-ups were made with computer programs, and then Roll and Scholze took their ideas to Sparta business Pica Grove Image Allies for consultation and fabrication. Roll said Pica Grove was able to handle everything the history room requested.

“That was really important to us because we’ve already spent a lot of time in developing the topics, developing some basic ideas and what kind of interactives we want and can this actually be made and within our budget?” Roll said. “They put a lot of extra time and effort into it ... and they were very generous with that. We’re super grateful for it. ... It’s a very professional exhibit that’s really cool and hands on.”

The end result is an exhibit that looks like a series of giant pop-up books with at least one interactive element, Roll said.

It was a big undertaking for the history room, Roll said.

“When you work on a big project for so long, it’s emotionally taxing at times because it was like having a second job, creating this thing ... while you’re doing the rest of our job,” he said.

It was a lot of steps, Roll said. Before it could be fabricated, Pica Grove had to obtain all the text, which had to be researched, written and edited − and often written and edited again to conform with space restrictions. Then artifacts and pictures had to be chosen.

On June 27 a special preview night was held for contributors to the exhibit, and on June 28, it opened to the public.

Roll said the history room has received a great response from everyone who has seen it.

“The most common response we get is no one expects a museum in a community our size to have something as professional and as engaging as it is,” he said. “That’s a real compliment to us working here and to the people who helped make it happen. That’s what we want, we want people to come here and to leave feeling, remembering it was a positive experience to be in Monroe County.”

It was fun and nerve-racking to open it to the public, Scholze said.

“It has been fun to see the reactions from young kids, older people particularly with the ‘D’ for Dairy interactive, that’s a fun one for sure,” she said. “(And their) appreciation for how nice it looks, how well it turned out, the concepts it covers and the amount of interactives, it’s a really cool exhibit.”

Meghan Flynn can be reached at meghan.flynn@lee.net.

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