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Suzanne Warner hears the question time after time when students visit the Peter Yegen Jr. Yellowstone County Museum.

Why study history? You can’t bring back the past.

Her standard two-part answer speaks volumes to youngsters who haven’t experienced life in an era before computers and cellular phones.

“I explain one reason we study history is just to respect and honor the people who came before us,” said Warner, the Yellowstone County Museum’s education curator.

“The other thing I tell them is that, by studying the past, we learn where we came from and why we got here. By studying the past, we can learn not to repeat the mistakes of the past,” she said.

Warner is the museum’s only full-time employee. She ran the museum on an interim basis for the first six months of 2001 before she was hired on a permanent basis.

So far, Warner is pleased that she has been able to supplement the museum’s budget by landing a series of grants.

The Yellowstone County Museum is helping visitors understand the Lewis and Clark expedition with the bicentennial approaching.

An exhibit on the Lewis and Clark expedition and the fur-trading era is featured on the museum’s main floor. Within a couple of months, a metal map providing information about the expedition will be installed on the deck outside. The map was made possible by a grant from the Lewis and Clark Commission.

Among other things, the map will show where Capt. William Clark camped along the Yellowstone River while returning from the Pacific Ocean to St. Louis, Mo., Warner said.

A grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities will help assure preservation of the museum’s photo collection.

A summer intern hired through a grant from Exxon-Mobil will help Warner through some of the museum’s busiest months. Billings schoolteacher Rose Duchesneau worked at the museum recently as part of a school-to-work grant.

Warner said the Yellowstone County Museum and other museums throughout the state play an integral role in tourism. Eighty percent of the people traveling through the state visit museums, historical sites and art centers, she said.

“Museums are the fun places where people go for pleasure, to satisfy their curiosity,” she said. “We’re trying to give people a sense of place, to help them understand the history of this area.”

Warner has extensive experience in museum work. She has a bachelor’s of science degree in art and anthropology and a master’s degree in history and photography from Southern Oregon University.

Many people don’t realize that science plays a big role in museums. Without proper storage and handling, artifacts can deteriorate and are lost forever.

“There’s a lot of physics involved,” she said.

Tom Howard can be reached at 657-1261 or at thoward@billingsgazette.com

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