Get to Know Brad Winn

As part of btw’s Profiles of interesting people, we present the transcript of an interview with Brad Winn. Brad has a life-long love of history and uses his social studies training as a staff member for a Lewis and Clark historical site in Hartford Illinois. Recently, Brad fulfilled a dream by taking his own modern-day journey along the path of Meriwether Lewis and William Clark’s exploration into the Louisiana Territory.)

Personal Background

btw: Tell us a little bit about yourself.

Brad Winn: I was raised in Springfield, Illinois (the Land of Lincoln) surrounded by historic places and museums. My parents began taking me to historic sites at a young age and I can vividly remember a trip to Tennessee to visit several Civil War sites while in Junior High.

btw: What sort of hobbies do you have? What do you do for fun?

Brad Winn: I am a die-hard St. Louis Cardinals baseball fan and since moving to the St Louis area I have been a partial season ticket holder since 2006. I love to read–something learned at an early age that has served me well in my careers. I think the first serious history book I read (The Killer Angels by Michael Shaara) was given to me by my father. I enjoy traveling, but also make it a point to explore my own community. Often folks never take the time to see the treasures they have in their own backyards.

btw: Please, tell us about your education and training that helped you in the work that you do.

Brad Winn: I first wanted to study veterinary medicine but I always had an active interest in history.  I think I was truly hooked during my freshman year, U.S. History survey course. Dr. Dan Hockman challenged and encouraged his students to love and appreciate history. During my Junior year, I switched majors to American History. I received my B.A. in History from Eastern Illinois University in 1993 and received my M.A. in History in 1997 from Georgia Southern University.

I would not be where I am today if not for the faculty, staff and fellow graduate students at Georgia Southern.  The encouragement of my graduate director Dr. Alan Downs and professors like Dr. Charles Crouch helped me to improve and develop the skills and passion I have for history and more importantly the value of sharing that with others.

btw: Where do you work?

Brad Winn: While studying at Georgia Southern, I began working at Ft. McAllister State Park in Richmond Hill, GA as a Historic Interpreter. When I moved back to Illinois in 1998 I worked as a Program Manager for Lincoln’s New Salem State Historic Site in Petersburg, IL. In 2001 I became the Site Manager at the new Lewis and Clark State Historic Site in Hartford, IL. I also began teaching History and Computer Literacy in 1998 at the local community colleges, first at Lincoln Land and now at Lewis and Clark Community College.

Job Responsibilities

btw: What kind of work do you do?

Brad Winn: I believe it is important to not just teach about history, but to help everyone develop a personal connection to the subject. History is one of those topics that can appeal to a wide audience because it is the story of all of us: where we came from, who was there before us and what they accomplished. If you share a connection to that story you are more likely to remember it and appreciate it.

Taken on the porch of General George Armstrong Custer's home with two historical reenactors. The house is located at Fort Abraham Lincoln in Mandan, North Dakota. Custer and the 7th Cavalry departed from here on their way to the Battle of Little Bighorn.

Someone once told me what we do at the museum is “Edutainment.” We both Educate and Entertain.

btw: How has social studies assisted you in your job?

Brad Winn: We now teach using all of the senses and experiences to bring about a more complete picture of the past. Social studies research skills taught me how to evaluate an audio or video clip of an historic event.  It has helped me discover how to become a better teacher here at the museum by challenging me to look for new and better ways to bring that history to life.

btw: What do you like the most about your job?

Brad Winn: I like the fact that every day is different.  We may have 10 school buses visiting one day and the next I am out mowing the grass or speaking before a Rotary Club.  I love that each day brings a new experience as we welcome new visitors from all over the world through our doors.

btw: What is fun about your job?

Brad Winn: Sadly my job does not allow me as much time as it once did being a Historic Interpreter.  When the opportunity arises to do an outreach program at a local school or for one of our financial partners I jump at the chance to slip on those funny old clothes and play the part of a member of the Lewis and Clark Expedition.

For the last 6 years the center has hosted the Junior Explorers Summer Day Camp and I always clear my calendar for that week to serve as a camp counselor and instructor.  A love for history starts at a young age, and I think that experiencing history in a lively way makes it more meaningful for them and really rewarding for me.

btw: Do you have any surprising or fun stories you can share about your job?

Brad Winn: Just this past year I took the summer off from teaching to follow a dream that I have had since I started working at Lewis and Clark State Historic Site. I spent two weeks driving the Lewis and Clark Trail from Hartford, IL to Astoria, OR.

The Great Falls of the Missouri River, near Great Falls, Montana. Lewis and Clark's view of the Missouri River was much different.

I stood atop Lemhi Pass where Meriwether Lewis crossed the Continental Divide; I shared the same excitement when I saw the Pacific Ocean for the first time. The best part of all it was my ability to instantly connect with folks at historic centers along the trail who, like me, shared their own stories about Lewis and Clark and their love of the expedition’s history.

In keeping with the spirit of Lewis and Clark and their journals, I wrote a travel blog each day chronicling my experiences along the trail. I know I got so much meaning from my travels because of the time I have spent working and talking with the thousands of guests who have visited our interpretive center in Hartford.

Digging Deeper

btw: What do you think is the hardest thing about your job?

Brad Winn: The hardest thing about my job is not having all the resources we need.  There is so much more we could be doing to help preserve and share the history of the Lewis and Clark Expedition. In the end funding to properly maintain and update our exhibits, develop educational resources and staff all of our needs is harder to find.

btw: Do you think you’re making a difference in the work that you do?

Brad Winn: When visitors who come to my center not knowing much about Lewis and Clark or their time in Illinois and leave saying, “Wow, I did not know that they …” I know we are making a difference. When I see students from our day camp bring their families back to the site after camp to show them what they learned, I know I helped to make a difference.

I think the fact that year after year we see the same families bringing their kids, grandkids, and relatives back to the museum to learn and experience Lewis and Clark proves we are doing a good job.

btw: What’s your next goal at your job?

Brad Winn: To complete the full development of the Historic Site here in Hartford. Beyond just the museum and historic buildings I am developing a whole park setting that will include hiking and nature trails and other recreational facilities. I am laying the ground work for the legacy of the Lewis and Clark Expedition in Illinois so that when the Tricentennial comes around in 2103-2106 they are still telling the story of Lewis and Clark’s historic expedition and folks will know that it started in Illinois.

Brad stands at the Pacific Ocean, Lewis and Clark's continental destination during their original journey. He is holding a 15-star version of the U.S. flag, which was the version used in the nation during the Corps of Discovery expedition. The flag features signatures of people Brad met on his journey from Illinois to the Ocean.

btw: What do you wish people knew or understood about the work that you do?

Brad Winn: How important history is toward shaping who we are and where we are going.  History is often relegated to just an interesting story that doesn’t really apply today because we are different. I say are we really?

Take the time to stop and learn from the past–either the past of your community or the past of your own family. Before my grandfather passed away, I took some time at his birthday party to interview him about his life during the Great Depression because I was preparing a lecture that very week for my history class. Because of those questions, I now understand so much more about the Great Depression than I ever did before.

History is worth preserving, so take the time to draw your own personal connections to the past. You will be much better for it.