Jill Heisterkamp

Linking the past, present, future

-Messenger photo by Darcy Dougherty Maulsby Jill Heisterkamp, right, executive director of Calhoun County Economic Development Corp., talks with Carol Thompson, chair of the Calhoun County Historic Preservation Commission.

ROCKWELL CITY — What would it look like to combine time travel with economic development?

It’s an intriguing question for Jill Heisterkamp, who is helping revive the Calhoun County Historic Preservation Commission.

“You have to give people a reason to come to your area,” said Heisterkamp, executive director of the Calhoun County Economic Development Corporation and staff liaison for the historic preservation commission. “Historic architecture, museums and other historic attractions can be part of economic development.”

Heisterkamp’s interest in historic preservation goes back to an elementary school field trip.

“We visited the oldest part of the Lake City Cemetery,” said Heisterkamp, a Lake City native. “The teachers didn’t tell us to find anything specific but encouraged us to explore in small groups. We were amazed by what we found.”

Some of the names on the decades-old tombstones denoted ancestors of families who still lived in the community. Other tombstones revealed grim tales of disease epidemics that claimed many lives, including children.

This experience sparked an interest in history that still inspires Heisterkamp.

“Once you build awareness of history, greater interest in preservation will follow,” she said.

When the Calhoun County Board of Supervisors encouraged Heisterkamp to revitalize the county’s historic preservation commission, which had faltered in recent years, she accepted the challenge.

Approximately 14 people from across Calhoun County attended the group’s organizational meeting in Rockwell City on May 17.

The new group includes chair Carol Thompson, vice chair Jessica Einwalter, secretary Mark Beckman and commissioners Reggie Kopecky, Karen Anderson, Darcy Maulsby and Lynn Gentry.

“My interest in history comes from listening to my grandfather’s stories and seeing how my father, Weston Thompson, volunteered at the Calhoun County Museum,” said Thompson, a retired registered nurse who recently moved back to Calhoun County from Ames. “I’m excited to help the CCHPC promote our unique history.”

Promotion leads to preservation

Like Thompson, Heisterkamp gained a new appreciation for Calhoun County after moving away from the area for a number of years.

“When I lived in Bay City, Michigan, and worked on the history sections of the visitors’ guide, I learned about the importance of the lumber industry and ship building in the area,” Heisterkamp said. “It was fascinating to learn there were hulls of old ships buried on the riverfront near the printing company where I worked. This showed me how to look at local history through a new perspective.”

She invited the public to attend meetings of the historic preservation commission and encouraged them to volunteer with the group, which has several focuses.

One of them is partnering with city councils and other historic preservation groups in not only Calhoun County, but neighboring counties as well.

Heisterkamp has met with the Rockwell City Council about installing signage along Calhoun County’s section of historic U.S. Highway 20.

Another goal is to publicize the museums and rich history of Calhoun County through social media and other tools.

“We have so many interesting stories in Calhoun County’s history,” said Heisterkamp, who cited examples ranging from Bonnie and Clyde in Rockwell City and Knierim to Dr. Forrest Shaklee, who opened his first chiropractic clinic in Rockwell City in 1915, created a nutritional supplement called “Vitalized Minerals” and later launched the Shaklee Products Company, a nutritional products company.

The group also is interested in getting more buildings around the county listed on the Historic Preservation Commission.

“Even if we can’t preserve all the buildings, we need to preserve the stories,” Heisterkamp said. “All this can help spark the next generation’s interest in local history.”