Historical society grateful for support from community

Published 8:54 am Tuesday, December 13, 2016

By John Haymond

Mower County Historical Society director

Over the last several years, county historical societies across Minnesota have faced some hard times. Several historical societies have had to reduce their operations or even shut down completely. Here in Mower County, however, the work of preserving local history is in much better shape, for two reasons: our community members are involved in what we do, and we have the support of our local governments. The Mower County Historical Society (MCHS) enjoys a level of backing from our local government which, frankly, many of our counterparts across the state do not have. As the fiscal year for 2016 draws to a close, I want to highlight some particular milestones from the past twelve months.



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This year the City Council of Austin contributed to MCHS’s financial support for the first time in the society’s history, allocating $7,500 for us in the city’s annual budget. We applied that money directly to our utilities costs, which has helped as we have increased some of our building usage for programs and public events. We were very happy to have the support of Mayor Tom Stiehm and members of the City Council, and we are very grateful to them for being a part of what we do.

On the county’s side of things, in 2016 the Mower County Board of Commissioners was extremely generous to us. Earlier this year, the board voted to pay for the installation of public-use bathrooms in our Pioneer Building, provided for insulating and upgrading the lights in our Collections Building (a project which continues forward with grant applications to different funding agencies, as well as private donations), covered the costs of residing the Excelsior Schoolhouse in historically accurate cedar, replaced our aging HVAC system, and just last month provided the funds that enabled us to install a new security system to protect our buildings and collection of artifacts and documents. The board also provided us with our Minor Repair Funds which allow us to conduct the regular sort of maintenance that comes with overseeing seventeen different buildings — right now we are looking at venting problems in one building, small roof leaks on another, and doors that need replacing, to name just a few of the incidental maintenance issues that crop up every year.

While other county historical societies struggle to gain meaningful support or appreciation from their local governments, MCHS does not have that problem. We are truly fortunate that members of the Mower County Board of Commissioners and the Austin City Council, as well as members of the various Township boards, value the work that MCHS does and support us both financially and personally. But we do not simply expect the county, city, or townships to throw money unless we also contribute to our own support. In the last two years, MCHS has set new records in the amount of money we have raised from our internal fundraising efforts and solicitation of donations. We look to county and city for help, but we also work to contribute to our own upkeep, and to facilitate our operations.

As the County Board considers the final numbers for the 2017 budget, I of course hope that MCHS will receive the full $11,000 allocation increase that I requested earlier this year, but it is not because we will be forced to shut our doors if we do not get it. Rather, MCHS is dedicated to being a professional museum, research facility, and community asset that our county and city can be proud of, and our goal is to continue improving in that role. To do so, we must first of all be good stewards of the financial support that local government and our taxpaying neighbors already entrust us with, and that is exactly what we do. Secondly, we are committed to following a carefully developed strategic plan that keeps our organization moving forward in achievable increments that are both realistic and financially sensible.

At the Mower County board meeting held last week on Dec. 8, there was perhaps some confusion about whether or not MCHS has received any financial support from the city of Austin, or what our intentions are for the proposed 2017 allocation increase from Mower County. To set the record straight, both the city of Austin and Mower County contributed to our financial support in 2016, and I speak for MCHS when I say that we are very grateful for it. Do we need more funding in future? We certainly do — we are a progressive institution, improving and growing every year, and we need the ongoing support of our local governments and communities to continue that. But we are very aware of how fortunate we are and how far we have come, and we know that we could never do it alone.