20Q: Catching up with RCHS Executive Director Michael Reuter


Anthony Wahl

Editor's Note: Kicks presents 20Q, a feature that introduces readers to people involved in the area's arts and entertainment community. Compiled by kicks Editor Greg Little, each piece will include a short bio, photo and answers to questions that provide insight into not only that person's artistic interests but also his or her unique personality.

Michael Reuter

You could say Michael Reuter, the Rock County Historical Society's executive director, has a history in history.

A native of Milwaukee, he grew up loving museums and history—specifically the “Streets of Old Milwaukee” experience at the Milwaukee Public Museum. After high school, he attended UW-Oshkosh to earn a bachelors degree in history before heading back home to collect his master's degree in public history and museum studies from UW-Milwaukee.

Since 2011, Reuter has turned his focus to the saga of Rock County. He and his wife, Beth, live in Janesville with their twin daughters, Grace and Ella, and in his scarce free time enjoys watching the Packers on Sundays in fall and playing a good tabletop game with friends from time to time.

For more about the Rock County Historical Society, visit RCHS.us. To contact Reuter, email him at mreuter@rchs.us.

1. Does Janesville make too big a deal out of a home in which Abe Lincoln spent just a few nights? I think so. There is a sense of community pride that he visited and was here, which is great, and it resonates with a national figure. However, there are a million stories of local achievement, perseverance and triumph that are more compelling and that speak to who the community is.

2. Share a historical fact most of Janesville doesn't know: Frances Willard, the first president of the Woman's Christian Temperance Union, was born in Janesville.

3. You have two hours of free time. What do you do? Sleep. I'm the father of twins.  

4. If you were transported back in time, what do you think would be the most difficult adjustment to living in the Tallman era? Lack of medical services or medical advancements would be an issue for me.

5. What person in history would you most like to meet? Abraham Lincoln. I'd be very curious to see if the man matches the myth.

6. On average, how many people visit RCHS facilities each year? Depending on the year, we hover between 12,000-15,000. When the campus is fully developed, we expect a goal of 25,000.

7. When it was built, the original cost for the Lincoln-Tallman House was just more than $42,000. What would it cost to build a house of this stature today? It would be roughly $1,422,000 in today's dollars.

8. Why is it particularly important to preserve the six structures on the RCHS campus? They are a snapshot in time of the community that can help tell the stories from so many different and unique perspectives.

9. The Charles Tallman Archives building offers assistance with genealogy. Do many people take advantage of that resource? About a 1,000 people a year via walk-ins, phone calls and emails. Like many things here, we are doing better at getting the word out about what a rich, valuable resource the CTA is.

10. Share something people would be surprised to find out about you: I get really nervous right before I'm about to speak to a group.

11. Why was the home donated to the city rather than sold outright or willed to a member of the Tallman family? The Tallman family wanted to see the family house and homestead preserved to encapsulate a way of life, the unique architecture of the house and the stories of the family. The house means so much more than that. The house is a story about the community.

12. What drew you to the position of RCHS executive director? Do you have specific education pertaining to the job? I have a master's degree in public history and museum studies as well as a bachelors degree in history. Like many careers, there isn't much they teach you in school that prepares you for the real world.

13. Left-handed or right-handed? Right-handed. I can eat with both hands.  

14. Aside from the RCHS campus, name some other significant historic sites in and around Janesville: The Indian burial mounds at Beloit College, Hanchett-Bartlett House in Beloit and Milton House in Milton, to name a few. There is a richly built environment in Rock County that residents should be proud of.

15. Is the Lincoln-Tallman House haunted? Folks may disagree with me, but I do not think it is haunted. We had a professional paranormal group come and investigate in 2013. Nothing came of it.

16. Bound books or e-reader? Bound books. I'm old school.

17. Explain the importance of volunteers in the continued operation of the RCHS: They are the lifeblood of the organization and our greatest resource. Volunteers extend our hands and legs to do so much more.

18. About a year ago, the Frances Willard Schoolhouse was moved from the Rock County 4-H Fairgrounds to the RCHS campus. What are the dangers associated with moving a 163-year-old structure? Our biggest fear was that it would splinter into a thousand pieces once it was taken off of the truck.

19. Do you collect anything? My twin daughters' artwork. I hang it up all over my office.

20. Are there any common misconceptions about history that you'd like to discount? History isn't stale or boring. Museums tend to do a horrible job of how they tell the story. They want to tell it from one specific veiwpoint. If you don't have a similar background, you won't care. Our job is to get people to care about their heritage and the history of their community—on their terms and from their viewpoint.

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