In the midst of the current recession something quietly happened in many communities that received very little press coverage – small, local museums all over folded up shop and went out of business. These little institutions had lots in common with our Milford Historical Society museum here in Milford. They were all, for the most part, run by small volunteer organizations and likely all on shoe-string budgets. Most did not charge or charged a fee that was nominal to visit. Most were probably not open a lot – maybe 2-3 days a week, if that much. And, most had no real claim to fame, other than documenting the local history of the town, village or area through old photographs, letters and other memorabilia.
Carolyn and I have visited lots of museums as we’ve traveled in many different communities. I must admit that I tend to see and visit the ones that have some unique draw – The Great Lakes Museum on Belle Isle; Spongeorama in Tarpon Springs Florida; The USS Alabama Battleship Museum in Mobile; the Jello Museum in LeRoy, New York; or the Besser Museum in Alpena, Michigan, which was started by the inventor of the Bessor Concrete Block Machine. All of those museums caught our eye, because they were big enough to advertise with road-side signs and have brochures in the local hotels.
Many small towns have little museums that are easy to miss, even if they are right out on the Main St. Most of these museums just have local artifacts and photos for the visitors to look at and most have someone from the local community on duty who can tell you all about the place and the stuff that is in the museum. These museums are Americana at its simplest and best. And they are disappearing at an alarming rate.
I suppose that some might blame our faster pace of life and perhaps our focus on the present (where an instant message” W r u?” passes for conversation). It’s a shame really that the so-called “Me-generation” has so little time for reflection upon the past that is captured in these little museums and has chosen to let these little time capsules fade away.
In some communities, like Milford, there is a strong commitment by volunteer groups, usually calling themselves a Historical Society or Preservation Group or maybe just Friends of the XXX Museum. Those little volunteer organization take it upon themselves to collect, organize and catalogue available memorabilia and, if they have the wherewithal, to create and run a museum in which to display the history of the area. There are one or more of these little local museums within each County in Michigan. You can see a list by clicking here.
Milford is lucky to have a group like the Milford Historical Society to run the Milford Historical Museum, but even it is struggling in the current recession. Membership was impacted by the recession, as were donations. The Society holds a few fund raising events each year – the Granny’s Attic Sale and the recent Milford Home Tour being the primary sources of funds to maintain and run the Museum. Those events were also slightly down this year.
So now the Historical Society has decided to try to raise money for an endowment fund by appealing to local residents to put the Historical Society in their wills and to include it in charitable giving plans. An endowment, if property funded would provide a more stable source of operational funding for our Milford Historical Museum. The idea is to have a large principal sum that is not touched, but which generates investment income that is used for the day-to-day operational needs and capital needs of the museum.
Taking into account the current modest operating budget and the plans that The Historical Society has for improving the Museum and supporting more hours of operation, an initial goal of $5 Million for the endowment has been set. A $5 Million endowment would generate about $100,000 per year, which would allow for capital improvements and maintenance on the building, plus pay for a full time staff to work on the organization and recording of the artifacts in the museum and to host museum visits.
Is raising $5 Million for a small museum in Milford, Michigan an impossible goal, a crazy dream? Maybe, maybe not. There are certainly wealthy people in the area that may enjoy the role of patron to such a noble effort. One could, after all, donate $5 Million towards a new building on the campus of their favorite University and perhaps get a wing of the building named after them; but, that’s one wing of one building in a big campus. Here you could be credited with keeping the whole thing running, not just one building. You would be the big fish in our little pond.
I’m sure that the Historical Society Board of Directors would be happy to put a big plaque out front on the Museum building stating – “The Milford Historical Museum is supported by the (your name here) Endowment Fund.” So give me a call and get out your checkbook; I’d be happy to stop by and pick up your endowment check. I’ll let you know from time to time how this effort is going.