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Meet the Team

Building a team of exceptional people is key to our success. We take pride in the enthusiasm, motivation and focus of our staff, our vision and our values. Our team delivers first class exhibits, events and experiences with a personal approach.

Jennifer Thiele

Executive Director

Jennifer has grown up in the museum field volunteering with numerous museums across the country. She earned a B.A. in History with a Minor in Women and Gender Studies from the University of Oregon and earned an M.A. in History from Southern New Hampshire University. Jennifer has previously worked in various positions at the Tillamook County Pioneer Museum in Tillamook, Oregon where she published three books and was named the Historian of the Year in 2018.  She transitioned to being the Museum Director of the Floyd County Historical Society and Museum in Charles City, Iowa, and most recently the Development Director with the National Czech and Slovak Museum and Library in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. She has also served on the Board of Directors with the Garibaldi Maritime Museum in Garibaldi, Oregon and is currently a Board Member with the Small Museum Association and Cookinghub Foundation. She specializes in museum administration, non-profit management, fundraising, and grant writing. Jennifer enjoys finding new ways to engage the community with their local museum.

Board of Directors


Patty Jessop, President

Vice President

Deb Lustig, Past President 
Jerry Ganfield, Treasurer

Jane Middlestadt, Secretary

Board Members

Elizabeth Anselmo

Tom Bonacci

Dave Effertz

Chris Fiske

Dan Gorman

Keith Holman

Judy Johnson

Alexandra McGuire

Andy McGuire

Nancy Vaillancourt

County Commissioner Liaison

Rick Gnemi

Anne Peterson

Orphanage Museum Manager

Anne is an Owatonna native with a lifelong interest in history and genealogy. She majored in history at St. Cloud State College. During a nearly 30-year career at Federated Insurance, she earned various professional designations and a Certificate in Technical Communications from Minnesota State University, Mankato. Anne found passion in her next chapter working with local attractions as the Group Tour Coordinator for the Owatonna Area Chamber of Commerce & Tourism. That led to a position managing the Minnesota State Public School Orphanage Museum at West Hills, which she has held since 2013. In 2022, the Museum joined forces with the Steele County Historical Society.

MaryAnne Higgins

Event, Program, Tour, & Volunteer Manager

MaryAnne has spent her career working in the recreation field where she gained experience working with children and adults. She attended Winona State University and has a B.A. in Recreation and Leisure Studies. MaryAnne has been an active member in the Owatonna community volunteering in numerous organizations, mentoring YSL students and was on the planning committee to help with the development of Owatonna High School Options program. Through these various experiences, she has honed her skills working with others and leading by example. She was nominated for the Owatonna Business Women 2015 Woman of Achievement Award.

Amy Lowery 

Archives & Collections Manager 

Amy grew up in Postville, Iowa.  Some of her most memorable summer vacations as a child were spent by a lake in Minnesota where she swam and went fishing.  Fishing wasn’t her favorite activity, but she enjoyed reading while family fished.  Today, she also enjoys cross stitching and knitting.  She attended Iowa State University for degrees in Anthropology and Biology.  There, she discovered her passion for museums as an elective in Museum Studies.  Next, she went to Texas Tech University to get her master’s in Museum Science.  She looks forward to continuing her career at the Steele County Historical Society.

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