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N.D. Historical Society director retiring

BISMARCK – Merl Paaverud, the State Historical Society director who has led the agency through a $51.7 million renovation and expansion of the North Dakota Heritage Center and the pending purchase of the boyhood home of famous bandleader Lawrence Welk, said he plans to retire in November.

Paaverud officially announced his retirement to the State Historical Board during its meeting Friday in New Town, after having informally told board members about a month ago.

Paaverud has directed the historical society since 2001 and started working for the agency in 1983 as site supervisor at the Fort Totten State Historic Site. He’s also served as the society’s director of historic sites and director of archeology and historic preservation.

“Next month, I’ll have 31 years in. I’m 65 and I’ve got some things I want to do,” he said in a phone interview Monday.

As director, Paaverud has helped steer a 97,000-square-foot Heritage Center expansion project that has essentially doubled the size of the facility and increased the exhibit space from 28,000 square feet to more than 47,000 square feet.

The Heritage Center’s first two galleries, the Adaptation Gallery and the Innovation Gallery, opened to the public on April 28. The final two galleries, the Inspiration Gallery and the Governors Gallery, will open Nov. 2 in conjunction with the center’s grand opening and North Dakota’s 125th anniversary of statehood.

“You just have to say this is a good place to jump off and let somebody else take the reins,” Paaverud said, adding, “‘I’m just happy to be part of it. It’s been very gratifying.”

State Historical Board President Calvin Grinnell said he has appointed a search committee comprised of five board members to find a replacement for Paaverud.

Paaverud said he wanted to announce his retirement early so the board could begin the selection process.

“I just want there to be a smooth transition,” he said.

Grinnell said Paaverud has been instrumental in guiding the society through the Heritage Center expansion and has “taken charge” in the state’s purchase of the Welk homestead near Strasburg, which is still being negotiated. Paaverud said he hopes to have the purchase – which is contingent on certain building repairs being made at the homestead – finalized yet this summer.

“He’s leaving on a high note and has done an exemplary job, and we’re sad to see him go,” said Grinnell, curator and historian at the Three Tribes Museum in New Town.