Duluth Children's Museum creative director remembered through storytelling

Rob Hadaway will be celebrated through the annual festival he created.

Rob Hadaway Storytelling Fest
Rob Hadaway tells a story at the Duluth Children's Museum's first storytelling festival in 2018.
Contributed / Duluth Children's Museum

DULUTH — This year's storytelling festival at the Duluth Children's Museum will bear a new name in honor of the late creative director who started the semi-annual tradition.

Rob Hadaway died Aug. 6. He served as creative director for the museum for seven years and launched the festival in 2018.

"Rob had a huge passion for interpretation and storytelling," said Cameron Kruger, the museum's executive director. "He'd gone to school for American Studies, and folklore was part of that degree. So a few years after he began here, he wanted to bring in more Ojibwe language learning, and storytelling is such a huge piece of Ojibwe language learning. It was a perfect fit."

Rob Hadaway, left, listens to Duluth Children's Museum President and CEO Cameron C. Bloom talk about the Manoomin exhibit in 2017.
Steve Kuchera / File / Duluth News Tribune

Laurel Sanders, Hadaway's assistant, recalls working with him to create the museum's Anishinaabe lodge.

"We wanted it to be this space where we could gather and show videos with Anishnaabe storytellers. … So we built it out of PVC and fabric and by the time it was done, it looked like the real thing," Sanders said. "It was wonderful to see how his mind worked like, 'Oh, I can do this and then add this.' And it turned out great."


Hadaway's exhibit construction skills come, in part, from his time working in theater set design. He taught set design for the Paideia School in Atlanta and performed, directed and designed sets for numerous productions as well as owned his own theater company, Big Top Theatre. He went to school for performing arts with the Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey's Clown College, where he graduated in the top of his class.

Rob Hadaway stilts
Rob Hadaway, dressed as a masked character, enters the Duluth Children's Museum on stilts. Hadaway was a trained clown who attended the Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey's Clown College.
Contributed / Duluth Children's Museum

"He had a character that he used when he would visit kids in hospital called Dr. Peabody," Kruger said. "He had other characters in his repertoire, but that was the one we saw him play most."

Another of Hadaway's major contributions to the children's museum was the creation of a play stage. It's a space where children can dress up in costumes, grab fun props and perform their own skits and stories. This stage will renamed the "Dr. Peabody Stage" in Hadaway's honor.

"He was always just creating those spaces," Sanders said. "He wanted to give families a chance to create for themselves."

Rob Hadaway Story
Rob Hadaway reads a story to children.
Contributed / Duluth Children's Museum

Sanders said Hadaway really shined when he was telling a story.

"A storyteller has to be very versatile," she said. "You need to be able to adapt to the crowd in front of you. Rob had a way of instantly reading the audience and giving them what they needed. He used a lot of audience participation and got people singing along with his ukulele."

Sanders said she worked with Hadaway for most of his years at the museum through the senior employment program. His enthusiasm for the work was "invigorating."

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"I remember my first impression of him; he just twinkled. He had this sparkle in his eye and a laugh that wouldn't quit," Sanders said. "There are some people who you meet and it's just like the highlight of your life and just being able to be his friend was like that. I think he'd be pleased to see the festival continue in his honor. He's someone who truly understood the value of storytelling."


The Rob Hadaway Storytelling Festival will be held Feb. 12 from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the Duluth Children's Museum. This year's storytellers are Margi Preus, Chris Monroe, Cheri "Mrs. T." Tesarek and John Donahue. Jenae Farnham will provide ASL interpretation.

Rob Hadaway talks about the Duluth Children’s Museum’s Ojibwe culture and language exhibit while an interactive wild ricing video/game plays on a screen.
Steve Kuchera / 2017 file / Duluth News Tribune

Teri Cadeau is a general assignment and neighborhood reporter for the Duluth News Tribune. Originally from the Iron Range, Cadeau has worked for several community newspapers in the Duluth area for eight years including: The Duluth Budgeteer News, Western Weekly, Weekly Observer, Lake County News-Chronicle and occasionally, the Cloquet Pine Journal. When not working, she's an avid reader and crafter.
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