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County historical society to reorganize

Staff writer

An effort is underway to reactivate and repurpose Marion County Historical Society to promote the county. The organization became inactive in the late 2000s.

Mary Olson of Peabody got the ball rolling last fall after she learned the society had an active bank account. She organized a meeting in September with interested parties from Florence, Peabody, Marion, and Pilsen.

“I asked for a motion to disband the society and distribute the funds in the bank account or reorganize and create a way to market the historic legacy of Marion County,” she said.

The group voted to reorganize, and at an Oct. 25 meeting there was discussion about linking museums to promote themselves and their communities.

At the next meeting, set for 5:30 p.m. March 27 in the Santa Fe room at Marion City Library, directors of Hillsboro, Marion, and Peabody museums will be joined by representatives from the Father Kapaun Museum at Pilsen and Mennonite Heritage and Agricultural Museum at Goessel. All others interested in promoting Marion County are invited to attend.

Olson hopes a board of directors can be elected and the bylaws reviewed for possible changes.

“I’ve suggested this (networking) in the past,” Marion County Economic Development Director Teresa Huffman said. “It makes sense that they all work together to promote the county. We would draw more people and would be stronger.”

She said if the organization gets going, the county might include funding for its work in its budget.

Marion City Museum director Peggy Blackman favors the reorganization. She said it would open communications between historical communities of the county.

“The larger museums could give assistance to smaller museums, and we could promote each other to visitors,” she said.

She noted it is important that museum directors have a general knowledge about each museum and each community in the county so they can provide that information to visitors.

Blackman said even quarterly meetings would be helpful. Attendees could share history, announce events happening in their area, and learn how to get supplies for their museums.

Suggestions at the October meeting included how each town could provide a list of historical sites, eating places, shops, and places to stay, and spread this information in various ways.

They talked about getting high school students, teachers, and college students who are technology savvy to promote their information on social media.

Funding would be an issue because Marion and Hillsboro receive financial support from their cities. Goessel is privately funded, and others get donations.

Fern Bartel, the new director at the Goessel museum, said her museum is willing to work together with the others in the county.

“It takes work,” she said, “but I think we should all work together to support each other and pass on information, to keep people in the county longer. The issue, I feel, is making it as simple as possible.”

A History

Based on historical papers provided by Mary Olson, the organization was first established in the late 1950s at a county commission meeting.

The vacant Baptist church next to Marion Central Park was accepted as home to MCHS and was deeded and insured in October 1958.

Bylaws required representation from each of the commission districts.

In April 1959, Al Riffel, Mildred Shields, and Les Powell reported to commissioners that the organization was operating.

That July, commissioners levied .1 mill for MCHS, as allowed by a 1955 state statute, to fund improvements to Marion County museums.

In July 1968, the county commission approved a resolution to grant $2,000 for museum expenditures in 1969. It required matching funds of $1 for every $2 spent. It also required that all county-subsidized museums must have regular open hours, a minimum of 1,000 hours a year. Museum expenditures of $1,915 were approved.

Later that year, commissioners designated that only three museums, the Marion County Museum in Marion, the Hillsboro Adobe House Museum, and the Peabody Museum would receive financing from the county.

MCHS was still operating in support of county museums in 1977, when Bill Novak of Lost Springs was president. At some point, (no one seems to know just when), the museums became separate entities, supported by their host cities or private donations.

MCHS continued as an independent organization. It was active throughout the 1990s and beyond, when directors scheduled tours to various historic sites and towns in the county. Sometimes special speakers were invited to address the members. Money collected for meals provided revenue to pay speakers and other associated bills.

Howard Collett was the president when MCHS became inactive. The society’s funds are kept at Tampa State Bank and its records kept at Marion City Museum.

New officers will be elected after a board of directors is elected.

Last modified March 16, 2017

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