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UW-Eau Claire alumnus named curator for Green Bay Packers Hall of Fame

March 12, 2014
Brent Hensel inside Lambeau Field
Brent Hensel '04 has been named the curator of the Green Bay Packers Hall of Fame at Lambeau Field.

EAU CLAIRE — Growing up in Black River Falls, Brent Hensel, like many Wisconsin kids, followed the Green Bay Packers. But while his peers may have dreamed about playing for the green and gold, Blugold alumnus Hensel had different aspirations.

"I can recall watching my first Packers game on TV when I must have been 3 or 4 years old," Hensel said. "I asked my father what this game was and even told him that I wanted to work for them someday."

That dream has come true. Hensel, who graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire with a master's degree in history in 2004, has been named curator of the Green Bay Packers Hall of Fame, located at historic Lambeau Field. It's a new position for the Packers and one that holds a lot responsibility for Hensel.

"I do think it has some challenges," Hensel said. "I was born here, so I grew up on Packers history. But the beginnings date back to 1919, so we're talking almost 100 years. I think we may be talking about perhaps the greatest sports story ever when it comes to the Green Bay Packers. They survived as a small-town team in Green Bay to remain part of the National Football League to this day."

The Green Bay Packers Hall of Fame closed in November for renovations and is not due to reopen until 2015. While some Packers artifacts will be on display at a nearby public museum, Hensel will be part of a team that will create a new, updated hall of fame inside the Lambeau Field atrium.

Hensel came to the Packers after spending seven years as curator for the New England Patriots, for whom he helped create and implement the team's hall of fame. Hensel said his journey to the NFL began with an internship with the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio. He credits UW-Eau Claire professor of history Dr. John Mann with helping him secure that internship.

"If it wasn't for him, I wouldn't have even known about it," Hensel said of the internship. "I can only imagine how my career path may have changed if I wouldn't have met him."

Mann said the jobs with the Patriots and the Packers are dream jobs for Hensel.

"He used to send me photographs of himself at the Super Bowl," Mann said. "I was thrilled to learn that he had been offered the job in Green Bay since he has always been a Packers fan."

Mann started UW-Eau Claire's public history program when he arrived at the university in 2003. He said public history refers to the practice and dissemination of history outside the traditional classroom setting.

"It is often defined as pre-professional training for students interested in careers in museums, historic sites, archives, historic preservation and private sector consulting," Mann said, adding that Hensel, who taught high school social studies prior to pursuing his master's degree, was the kind of student he was looking for. "Brent was, essentially, the sort of student we had in mind when creating the M.A. degree offering. He was a classroom teacher who remained passionate about history but was not satisfied in the classroom. So, he came here to pursue his M.A."

Hensel credits his work with Mann and his time studying at UW-Eau Claire with fanning the flames of his love for history.

"The history department at UW-Eau Claire is phenomenal," Hensel said. "There are a lot of great professors who are extremely knowledgeable in their fields. My experiences there helped me to land internships both locally with the Chippewa Valley Museum and nationally with the Pro Football Hall of Fame. My experience and the connection I gained there eventually helped me earn my job with the Patriots, and now the Packers."

Mann said Hensel is a perfect example of how the public history program at UW-Eau Claire is designed to help students develop both their interest and their strengths in planning a career path for their future.

"Our approach to training public historians is to train them as historians first and then help them obtain additional skills specific to the careers students want to pursue," Mann said. "This meant that Brent had broad exposure in his course work to the history of various regions and eras offered by my colleagues."

Hensel said he will use his skills and experience to help others understand the importance of the only community-owned professional sports franchise in the United States and the rich history of the team and National Football League.

"I believe one of the challenges is educating our younger fans about some of the iconic figures not only in Packers history but NFL history," Hensel said. "Most everyone seems to know about Vince Lombardi and his great teams of the 1960s since the Super Bowl trophy is named after him. But I wonder how many know who Curly Lambeau is, or Don Hutson. I think it's important to educate people about the long, storied history of the Packers as 13-time world champions.

"It's truly a dream job. I have dreamed about working for the Green Bay Packers ever since I can remember. The Packers are a wonderful organization to work for. In my short time here, I can see it is very family-oriented, and they are very committed to being successful on all levels."

Although it has been nearly 10 years since Hensel received his master's degree from UW-Eau Claire, he said he and Mann are still in contact.

"We have stayed in touch, and he has given me a lot of great advice to help support me throughout my career," Hensel said. "I think everyone needs special educators like him to guide us down our career path."

Mann said it has been fun watching Hensel mature as a professional during his time at UW-Eau Claire, with the New England Patriots and now with the Green Bay Packers. Mann, a Green Bay Packers fan himself who has bought Packers stock for his 2-year-old daughter, said he is especially pleased to see Hensel's latest career move.

"I look forward to catching up with him and watching him transform the hall of fame," Mann said. "And, of course, taking in a game or two."

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