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Our view: Friends of Mayowood were dedicated to preservation of landmark

January 10, 2019

Rochester has always had a touch-and-go relationship with the concept of historic preservation.

In a fast-growing city where so many residents don’t have roots, that might be expected. Some important landmarks have been preserved, while others have disappeared.

Thirty-seven years ago, a small group of people didn’t want to see Mayowood, perhaps the city’s most well-known residence, be one of those that would soon disappear.

So six women banded together to form what became Friends of Mayowood, and promptly went to work volunteering their time and efforts, enrolling additional members, and calling attention to the deteriorating condition of the former estate of Dr. Charles H. Mayo.

Their action was part of another long tradition in Rochester: volunteerism.

For decades, any number of cultural, civic, health and sports organizations have run on the energy of volunteers.

In the case of the Friends of Mayowood, their tireless work became the bridge that eventually reconnected Mayowood with Mayo Clinic.

The mansion was built in 1911 and played host to leaders in the world of medicine, politics and art. When a successive generation of the Mayo family eventually left the estate, Mayowood was given to the Olmsted County Historical Society in 1965.

There was no way, however, that the historical society could afford the upkeep, operational costs and renovation of the building and grounds.

Enter the Friends of Mayowood. The organization, which grew to have hundreds of members, offered tours of the mansion and raised funds for its preservation.

Unfortunately, what Mayowood could be was fading farther out of reach with each passing decade as time took its toll on the estate.

Still, the combined efforts of the Friends and the History Center of Olmsted County kept the basic majesty of Mayowood intact until Mayo Clinic purchased the building in 2013. Mayo was able to quickly step in and do the kind of work — and spend the kind of money — Mayowood needed.

The contents of the mansion still belong to the historical society, and the Friends of Mayowood have been able to contribute to the preservation and restoration of those materials.

However, the Friends group has found itself unable to attract a new cadre of volunteers and has voted to disband. Membership in the organization has dropped to less than 50 and there were not enough members willing to serve on the board of directors.

Hopefully, this isn’t a sign that the spirit of volunteerism is flickering in Rochester.

We salute the Friends of Mayowood not only for their contribution to the preservation of a community landmark, but also for reminding us of the power of people who voluntarily give of their time and effort.

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