MHS graduate shares love of history with the public

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Jennifer Van Haaften is a 1989 Marshalltown High School graduate. She is assistant director of the Wisconsin Veterans Museum in Madison. Her parents are Jerry and Laura Stephens of Marshalltown.

Jennifer Van Haaften got her hands on a copy of the book “On the Banks of Plum Creek” by Laura Ingalls Wilder as an elementary student. That book sparked a love of history and led her to the successful career she has today.

Van Haaften, the daughter of Jerry and Laura Stephens of Marshalltown, is a 1989 Marshalltown High School graduate.

She works as assistant director of the Wisconsin Veterans Museum in Madison.

“I am involved in almost every function of the museum, from security to budget, to exhibit planning and building, to label writing,” she said. “I oversee the educational program, as well as the staff that manages the collections themselves. My favorite part about museum work is doing or creating something that helps people to connect with stories from the past.”

Being around historical pieces traces back to her time in Marshalltown.

“I started at the Marshall County Historical Society as an intern and worked at Living History Farms,” Van Haaften said. “I quickly learned I loved sharing history with people.”

Van Haaften has fond memories of her time in Marshalltown Schools, including time spent in the drama productions and in the show choir at Marshalltown High School, where her father later served as principal.

Van Haaften owns a bachelor’s degree from the University of Northern Iowa and has attained master’s degrees from the University of Manchester in England and Eastern Illinois University. Her husband, Joel, is a native of Algona, Iowa and the couple has two children, Will and Alice.

From all she has accomplished, that day she became a Laura Ingalls Wilder fan is still evident today. She recently had an article about Laura Ingalls Wilder’s family ties in Wisconsin titled “Re-examining the American Pioneer Spirit: The Extended Family of Laura Ingalls Wilder” published in the Wisconsin Magazine of History.

“It seems I’ve come full circle in my love of history,” she said.

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