It is not surprising that Susan Garwood, executive director of the Rice County Historical Society, expresses a fondness for history. But it turns out she has a fondness for prehistory, as well. What is that? Prehistory is defined as the time before there were written records so, by that definition, Rice County history started in 1650 because “that was the time of the first European contact” here. Garwood adds, “Any time we do tours, we begin with the very first residents of the area which were, of course, the Indians. And, she notes, the RCHS also features “archeological signs of presence and activity well before the historic period.”
So, when I talked to her about what we might feature from this storehouse of stories at RCHS, Garwood suggested starting in prehistory with mammoth bones and skipping millenniums ahead to the most recent permanent exhibit of RCHS which celebrates hockey prominence in this area.
Stories. That is what brought Garwood to her career. A native of West St. Paul, Garwood got a bachelor’s degree in American Studies with a Heritage Preservation emphasis at St. Cloud State. She knew, she told me, that the museum field was “where I wanted to go from the very beginning.” She had loved hearing the stories told by her father and grandmother and found that all of the disciplines (such as architecture, art, politics, the economy) came together in American Studies and had “an impact on defining who we are.” Garwood started her career working for the Northfield Historical Society from 1988-2000 and then worked in the Archives at Carleton College until assuming her current position at RCHS in June of 2003.
Imagine the stories that must have been told when the old bones which ended up on display at RCHS were first discovered. A person named “R. Schwab” found a shoulder blade from a young mammoth on the banks of Mud Creek in Warsaw Township. A mammoth tooth was found by Elmer Rutz of Morristown in a gravel pit at Lower Sakata Lake. A mammoth tusk was found by two men who decided to split it in half, for some reason. All these came from the PaleoIndian period, 10,000 to 6,000 B.C., and were found in Rice County in the 1930s. Garwood told me that RCHS has been “very intentional” about having everything in the collections “from, made by or found in Rice County.
And if you would like to know what life was like in Southern Minnesota in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, there is a Main Street exhibit here which allows you to peek into replicas of a general store, a toy and gift shop, bank, cobbler shop, doctor and dental offices, post office, dining room of a home and more. Here’s the sheriff in the jail, sitting with his cigar, reading the Faribault Republican, with wanted posters on the wall from that brazen robbery attempt that had taken place in Northfield, by the James-Younger Gang.
The Rice County Historical Society, formed in 1926, was housed in the Thomas Scott Buckham Memorial Library in Faribault from 1930 until the present museum was opened at the former county highway building at the east end of the Rice County Fairgrounds during the fair in July of 1978.
Of the many permanent exhibits on display, the most recent one was put together and is being maintained by two brothers, Mario and Marty Mjelleli. Mario e-mailed me from a second round hockey playoff he was involved in playing in France that he “would like people to realize just how special hockey in Rice County is” and recognize that Faribault, in particular, is a hockey town, a “unique place where so much talent has passed through.” Mario and Marty both played in the Shattuck-St. Mary’s hockey program (Mario graduated in 2005 and Marty in 2001). Marty told me they both “have a lot of pride being from Faribault. We would both be classified as rink rats because that’s where we spend most of our time, honing our game, lifting weights or socializing.”
The idea for an exhibit came from a fishing trip in northern Minnesota the brothers took with their father in July of 2009. Their grandfather, a big hockey fan from Roseau, had inspired their love for hockey, and during their trip, they stopped off to see rinks in towns such as Warroad, whose strong hockey tradition has led to its being called “Hockey Town USA.” They were impressed with all the trophies, banners, awards and famous alumni featured in displays at these venues, as well as at the Hockey Hall of Fame in Eveleth.
Mario said that while they were on the boat fishing, they talked about how special an exhibit of Shattuck-St. Mary’s hockey would be, with all the talented teams and individual players and their accomplishments over the years. There were many players who moved on to “excel at the collegiate, minor pro, NHL and even Olympic level.” Just before their trip north there had been a celebrity hockey game at SSM with award-winning players competing against each other to help support youth hockey in Faribault.
“It did not take long to get the idea rolling” of an exhibit at RCHS, Mario explained, because the brothers belong to “a big hockey family” with lots of hockey memorabilia: “It’s almost as if we have a display of our own in my parents’ basement.” RCHS Executive Director Susan Garwood was enthusiastic when approached about the idea. Garwood told me, “These two brothers are fabulous and true assets to the museum and this collection. After all, who better than those who know the topic so intimately to know what material best represents the subject and collection?”
The exhibit started with a few items and is continually growing as the brothers add more hockey player cards, jerseys and equipment. Among items on display: a video of Walt Disney’s 1996 D3: The Mighty Ducks, filmed mostly at SSM. There is also a book of news clippings which celebrate hockey in Faribault. From Sports Illustrated: “Shattock-St. Mary’s is to high school hockey what Harvard is to law school.” From ESPN the Magazine: “Welcome to the Hogwarts of Hockey, where carbon-fiber sticks take the place of magic wands.”
Faribault High School provided a game jersey, puck with logo and articles about the Faribault Falcons. The Falcons won their first boys’ Big 9 conference title in 2010, with an 8-0 win over Rochester Mayo which put them into a tie with Rochester Century in the final standings. Seth Helgeson played for Faribault High School, then for the Sioux City Musketeers of the U.S. Hockey League (USHL) from 2007-09 and is a leader of the Golden Gophers in his senior year at the Univ. of Minn. (He was drafted by the N.J. Devils of the NHL.) The Mjelleli brothers hope to obtain a puck from Helgeson to add to the 22 which presently are in the collection.
As for Shattuck-st. Mary’s hockey, Marty told me that SSM has sent more than 300 boys and girls to play in the NCAA and he counts 49 National Hockey League draft picks since 1996. (Just imagine, Susan Garwood said to me, if that many NFL players came from one school.)
Hockey at SSM had humble beginnings, with the first team in 1925 playing on a small pond. In 1968 the first indoor ice rink called “The Barn” was built. However, at one point a shrinking overall enrollment at the school led to there being only two players on the roster and SSM had to partner with Faribault High School to field a team. But a sea change (or new Ice Age, if you will) was to take place in the 1990s at this college prep, boarding and day school for grades 6-12 which had its origin in a mission school founded in 1858.
The administration committed itself to recruiting top hockey prospects for the SSM Sabres under the leadership of Jean-Paul (J.P.) Parise, a former NHL pro from Ontario who had also coached the Minnesota North Stars. SSM left the Minnesota State High School League in 1996 and started playing – and winning – USA Hockey games and tournaments. (Parise held positions as coach, director of hockey and then director of prospect evaluation. And if that name sounds familiar, well, his son Zach is currently adding to the Parise legacy, playing with the Minnesota Wild of the National Hockey League). Andy Murray coached at SSM for the 1998-1999 season, during which the Sabres went 70-9-2 and won their first Tier 1 Boys 18 & Under national championship title, before he moved on to become head coach of the Los Angeles Kings of the NHL.
Tom Ward succeeded Murray in 1999 (and followed Parise as director of hockey in 2005). Ward, a Richfield native who had both played and coached hockey at the Univ. of Minn., proceeded to rack up seven additional boys prep national titles in 2001, 2003, 2005, 2007, 2008, 2011 and 2012. The girls prep team, formed in 1996, has had two “three peats” as national champions in Tier 1 19 & Under for 2005-2007 and 2009-2011.
In an interview last month, Ward told me that it has been a pleasure to be part of the “storied history we have here,” with the “fantastic players” from supportive families. Ward stressed the uniqueness of SSM, which combines “athletics, academics and a boarding school environment,” unlike anything else in “our neck of the woods here in Minnesota.” Ward noted that the school population has doubled since he came and that 145 boys and girls are playing hockey (out of the school’s current enrollment of 441), which shows the success of the program. SSM has seven hockey teams and 15 coaches, with teams playing 50 to 70 games in a seven-month season, including tournaments throughout the U.S., Canada and abroad.
One event can serve as an illustration of SSM hockey brilliance: Five of the players in the men’s gold medal game of the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics between the United States and Canada had played at SSM. Jonathan Toews, SSM ‘05 of the Chicago Blackhawks, scored the first goal for Team Canada and Zach Parise, SSM ‘02 who was at that time captain of the New Jersey Devils, tied the score 2-2 for Team USA with only 24.4 seconds left in regulation. Sidney Crosby of the Pittsburgh Penguins (who had been at SSM 2002-2003) gave the gold to his delirious home country of Canada on his goal in overtime. Ryan Malone, SSM ‘99, and Jack Johnson (who had teamed with Crosby at SSM, winning the 2003 national title with him) also played for the U.S. Just a few months later, Toews’ Blackhawks won the Stanley Cup, which had been won the year before by the Pittsburgh Penguins – led by Crosby, who was the youngest captain (at 21) to ever win the championship.
On the distaff side, twins Jocelyne and Monique Lamoureux (SSM ’08) led the U.S. women’s hockey team to the silver medal at the 2010 Olympics and were part of the ’05-’07 “three-peat” championships at SSM. They spent one season playing hockey for the Univ. of Minn. before shocking the hockey world by transferring to their hometown of Grand Forks to play for the Univ. of N. Dak. which had never been nationally ranked or made the NCAA tournament. This year Jocelyne set the all-time WCHA record for career points and assists. Meanwhile, Amanda Kessel (SSM ’10) and Brook Garzone (SSM ’12) helped the Univ. of Minn. women’s hockey team break NCAA records of consecutive games won and total victories in 2012-2013, with Kessel having led the nation in scoring this season.
Marty summed up the brothers’ hopes for the hockey exhibit: “The items reflect the hard work of many who have achieved great things in our rinks. It should offer a blueprint for aspiring young players to follow the path and carry on the tradition and also encourage others to try the sport of hockey.” The accomplishments recorded in the exhibit “should be a badge of honor for the community,” a reminder that some of the biggest names in sports have graced local rinks. Marty concluded: “All roads lead to Faribault!”
The Rice County Historical Society, located at 1814 N.W. 2nd Avenue in Faribault. The website is rchistory.org.
Marty and Mario Mjelleli
The Mjelleli brothers: fierce hockey competitors, museum curators. Unlikely combination, but the two alums of Shattuck-St. Mary’s are passionate evangelists for the sport they love through the exhibit they inspired at the Rice County Historical Society.
Older brother Marty (SSM Class of 2001) has played for an alphabet soup of hockey leagues: BCHL, USHL, WCHA, ECHL. The teams were the Prince George Spruce Kings of the British Columbia Hockey League, the Des Moines Buccaneers of the U.S. Hockey League, St. Cloud State University (where he graduated cum laude in 2008) of the Western Collegiate Hockey Association, the Johnstown Chiefs of the former East Coast Hockey League (a minor league affiliate for the Colorado Avalanche of the National Hockey League) and the Amsterdam Tigers, a team he led in scoring during a 2009-2010 season in Europe. Marty coached the Des Moines Buccaneers 2010-2012, serving as head coach in 2012, and is currently an assistant hockey coach with St. Olaf College.
After graduating from SSM in 2005, Mario was a first round, number one overall, draft choice of the Fairbanks Ice Dogs in the NAHL (North American Hockey League), playing for one year there and one year for the North Iowa Outlaws. Mario played for Augsburg College for four years, where he was nominated twice for the NCAA Hockey Humanitarian Award and graduated in 2011. Mario turned pro, debuted with the Mississippi Riverkings of the CHL (Central Hockey League) and then headed for Europe. In an e-mail, Mario said, “I signed with Eindhoven Kemphanen, a town about 1 1/2 hours away from Amsterdam.” This was special to him because Marty had also played in Amsterdam. Mario added: “I do have a little bragging rights over him, though. I got to play in the [Netherlands] All-Star game which was a great experience for me. I am now currently playing in Cergy, France, a suburb of Paris and we are in the 2nd round of playoffs.” Marty readily agreed that Mario had bragging rights for that All-Star game and said proudly that “For the 2012-13 season for Cergy Jokers of France, Mario was among the league leaders in points scored.”
Clearly both Mjelleli brothers deserve bragging rights for the hockey exhibit they created at the Rice County Historical Society.