After working in the shade garden, volunteer Nan St. Clair (left) relaxes with her friend Melissa O’Rourke on the Porter House front porch. (Submitted photo)
After working in the shade garden, volunteer Nan St. Clair (left) relaxes with her friend Melissa O’Rourke on the Porter House front porch. (Submitted photo)

There’s a new normal at the Porter House because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Although this summer is different from other summers, the Porter House has a new director and new opportunities to welcome visitors.

Director Beek hired
The Porter House board has announced the hiring of Ashley Beek as the new consulting director of the museum. Emily Mineart, the museum’s first year-round staffer, and Beek have been working together since early May to ensure a smooth transition. Mineart is taking a well-deserved sabbatical beginning in August, after eight years.

Ashley Beek is a Luther graduate (2009) with a background in nonprofits and project management. Her experience and knowledge complement the museum’s challenges, needs and projects. According to board member Peggy Beatty, “We are thrilled to have Beek on board at the Porter House, and invite the community to welcome her.”

Gardens open and arbor re-installed
Although the Porter House is closed to tours for the 2020 season, the grounds and the house exterior spaces have been readied for visitors. Bert Porter’s original garden arbor at the garden’s alley entrance has been re-installed in memory of Jean Carter by the Master Gardeners of Decorah.

Peter and Judy van der Linden head the garden work of volunteers, and invite visitors to walk around the house and enjoy the variety of shade plants and features as well as the numerous sun-loving plants. Visitors will find butterflies and bees also enjoying the blooms.

The exterior features of the Porter House are open free of charge. Families are encouraged to bring their children to peruse the wall of rocks and fossils collected by Bert Porter. A free information sheet is provided in a case attached to the wall.
The porch area is available for friends to sit and relax and have a chat.
Visitors are asked remember the recommendations of physical spacing, handwashing and face masks while visiting the Porter House.

Scavenger hunt
Beek has set up a nature-lover’s scavenger hunt around the grounds of the house. Beek chose 10 of Bert’s rock and insect specimens, made and laminated copies of these, and placed them in a variety of locations around the outside of the house. On the right side of the front porch visitors can find instruction sheets for the scavenger hunt. Visitors can post selfies with their finds on the Porter House’s Facebook page.

Virtual mini-tours
Because the interior of the Porter House is not open for tours this summer, board member David Faldet filmed a series of 11 mini-tours. According to Faldet, “These short videos provide behind-the-scenes glimpses into the travels, lives and hobbies of Bert and Grace Porter.” Docents, board members, experts, and friends of the Porter House recorded the stories during the early summer. The videos are available at porterhousemuseum.org.

The Porter House Museum is a private, non-profit organization with an independent board of directors. It receives no ongoing city, county or state funding, and has relied for nearly 50 years upon much-appreciated volunteers and private donations.