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 UW-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. 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 John Mann with helping him secure that internship.
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 the program is geared for. "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 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.