Ted Rita is the General Manager/Executive Director at Hesston Steam Museum in La Porte County. He has been connected to the museum throughout his whole life, and his goal is to help the community get the same life-changing experience that he had as a kid.
Rita grew up on a farm in Michigan and began going to Hesston to volunteer as soon as he could.
“I volunteered pretty much every weekend of my life there because, as a child, my dad was involved at the museum,” Rita said. “It was like this larger-than-life experience every time. It definitely influenced my upbringing.”
Rita spent a lot of time around the older people who worked at Hesston. Most of his upbringing consisted of learning the mechanics of everything at the museum.
“I learned from all of these people, including my father who was a machinist. That was really my upbringing, going to the museum and learning about this trade that I was going to be entering,” Rita said.
Rita began working at the Hesston officially in 2004 when he became the assistant general manager. When the founder passed away, Rita was promoted to general manager on a part-time basis. After having that position for a while, he was hired full-time in 2016. At the time, Rita still worked for an ad agency called Whirlpool Corporation in St. Joseph, Michigan.
Rita’s job at the museum consists of many different tasks, from machining parts to marketing to ticket software. Yet, it seems the part of the job that takes up the most time is educating young people.
“It's really whatever is pressing that needs to be done,” Rita said. “We've got tons of young people at the museum. There are quite a few of them that want to soak up this knowledge; they’re just like I was when I was 13. The hands-on piece of it is that machine shop time, and part of that side of things is me educating young people.”
It is lucky that his job requires so much time with the younger crowd because this is his favorite part of the job. Rita even gets to take his son, Avery, to work with him. He teaches his son all about the museum as his dad taught him.
“I love teaching the youth, especially my son Avery. I love it when there are breakthroughs and things like that with them. I also like watching them actually operate the equipment that they helped restore,” Rita said.
Rita finds inspiration from a couple of different museums, including the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, Michigan, and the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago. Those two museums have inspired him to do things differently at Hesston.
What inspires him most, however, is the children.
“Being a youngster on our campus, I saw the museum through the lens of a child. I saw these exhibits, railroad equipment, cranes, sawmills, and everything in operation,” Rita said. “What makes me want to keep moving is thinking about the children and the families that come to see that the same way as I saw it.”
Rita has learned a lot throughout his life with Hesston Steam Museum, and he has worked for years and years to be able to pass on everything he’s learned to the youth of today. There is one main thought he wants to make sure is not overlooked.
“Time isn't infinite. We don't have a lot. Everybody says that time goes faster as you get older, but you are never really cognizant of it until you figure it out. You don’t understand that a year is only 365 days and time is the one thing that we can't get more of, and we don't know how much we have left. Don't waste it.”
To learn more about Hesston Steam Museum, visit their website at https://hesston.org/