Ellen M. Rosenthal - President and CEO
When my boys – now 24, 21 and 17 – were growing up, visiting museums and libraries was our default activity in between soccer practice, violin lessons, skiing, trips to the pool and playgrounds. Much like Indianapolis, Pittsburgh, where we lived for 16 years, offered a wide range of museums – from the Andy Warhol Museum with a room of floating silver balloons to the Carnegie Science Center with floors of hands-on activities. No doubt about it, I had a great time sharing experiences with them, but there was little time at the end of each trip for one of my favorite activities – shopping.
As I sat down to write this blog, I imagined that there must be mothers out there like me who love watching their kids discover and explore both indoors and outdoors – and, I would argue, there is no better place to do that in Central Indiana than Conner Prairie, but who can’t wait for the time at the end of the visit to browse. I dedicate this blog to them: My Favorite Things in the Conner Prairie Store
My top pick in our store is Conner Prairie’s own line of kid’s pioneer clothes. Responding to calls from frantic parents around the country trying to outfit their kids for school Pioneer or Colonial Days, Store Manager Elaine Molin, came up with the idea of designing and producing a line of simple, inexpensive authentic children’s clothing. Accomplishing her dream was not an easy matter. In these days inexpensive clothing usually means production in the Far East, but that also requires producing enormous quantities. Finally, Elaine considered asking Pen Products if they could help. Pen Products is a division of the Indiana Department of Correction. Indiana's prison industries and farms manufacture goods and provide services using offender labor. Its motto is “made with conviction”. Women prisoners sew our clothing line in small batches using materials we provide. We offer girls dresses in a glorious array of printed calicos with pinafore and bonnets. And, boys shirts and vests. If I only had a granddaughter to outfit!
My book choice of the year is "H is for Hoosier". Ostensibly a children’s alphabet book, it also provides a lovely overview of Indiana with pictures of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Indiana Dunes, covered bridges and an Amish horse and buggy – among others. I sent the book with my youngest son Paul as a gift to the French family he will be living with this summer as part of Indiana University’s summer language program.
If my shopping insights are of interest or use to anyone, I’m happy to pick up this thread again in future blogs. Upon first consideration the topic may not seem lofty enough for a president, but I continually think through how the Conner Prairie experience engages every person at every age. I’d like to pretend that when I visit museums I am only interested in the art, the history or the learning opportunities for my children, but I know that isn’t true. I also can’t wait for my time in the shop to see if there is something unique that I haven’t seen anywhere else. Do some of you feel the same way? I’d love to hear about it.
1. Decorations that get you into the holiday spirit
Starting at the beginning of December, giant gingerbread men and wintery hanging decorations appeared throughout the Welcome Center. Even though temperatures outside were not seasonal, here at Conner Prairie, “elves” were busy making the season bright. My favorite decorations are the giant wrapped gifts near the gingerbread houses. I can only imagine what might be inside!
2. Snow-covered fields, trees, woods...and a balloon?
Few can argue that fields and trees frosted with snow pull you into the magic of winter, but a snow-topped balloon? Well, it may not be entirely holiday-related, but it is pretty amazing seeing a giant helium balloon covered with snow and with icicles hanging off its tethers. It took this sense of perspective for me to see how gigantic the 1859 Balloon Voyage really is, and the balloon's orange and yellow stripes look all the more vibrant next to the pure white covering.
3. The Conner Prairie Store
Who could beat shopping at work with a bit of an employee discount? I have been guilty of shopping at school or work for holiday gifts for many, many years. When I was a student at IU, everyone in the family got IU t-shirts and sweatshirts from the bookstore. When I lived in Chicago, it was city-themed gifts from the gift shop in the lobby of my building. Now that I work at Conner Prairie, it’s unique recipe books and vintage-looking ornaments for the tree. I'm excited about the gift giving possibilities for years to come as the store is always bringing in new and unique gifts.
4. The annual holiday staff lunch
About a week ago, we held our annual holiday staff luncheon hosted by our president, Ellen M. Rosenthal. All who work a Conner Prairie gathered for lunch, employee awards, employment milestone awards and a dessert competition. While the lunch was delicious and the dessert competition was filled with every yummy treat under the sun, it was the employment milestone awards that won my heart that day. Handmade candle holders, mugs, plates, jugs, a lamp and even a pie plate occupied a huge table—there must have been at least 25 items on that table. Each piece was handmade by one of our own Conner Prairie potters in celebration of a 5-, 10-,15-year or more anniversary with Conner Prairie, all the way up to one employee's 40-year anniversary. As I sat in the luncheon and saw how proud each recipient was to hear his or her name called and to receive the anniversary memento, it filled me with thanks to be part of such an organization. As I celebrate my six month “anniversary” here at Conner Prairie, I am eager to know what the next year will bring.