Supporting Historic Museums

Supporting Historic Museums

“As they are for home-town residents everywhere, the local attractions always are just ‘there,’ with seemingly plenty of time to stop in. Trips to distant attractions beckon, and we don’t discount the road trip’s enduring appeal. But somehow time to visit the local sites never seems to materialize, and it’s always in the wake of such disasters that we finally learn what we’ve lost. So here’s a plea to take advantage of your local historic sites, support them however you might—both volunteer help and financial aid are eagerly sought and gratefully accepted—and appreciate how truly fragile our collective past is before it’s too late.”
– James M. Tarbox, History Channel Magazine, regarding the institutions flooded in Cedar Rapids IA in 2008

museum_roanokeAn abundance of hidden gems are scattered across our nation, a lot of them tucked away in our own backyards. Many of us drive past them every day, unware or unappreciative of their existence.

Local historic museums preserve the memories of the early days of our communities. They tell the stories of a time long past.

These museums vary from small one-room monuments to rambling historic villages containing an assortment of log cabins, old houses, mercantiles and jails.

They have one thing in common.

They need us.

Without the support of the community, volunteers and donations, these small museums are at risk. Many are barely surviving. Too many have already locked their doors, unable to remain afloat.

Many of these share several common denominators. Most are run by small volunteer organizations, stretching their resources thin to remain open to public. Most usually exist on shoe-string budgets, without the benefit of massive funding enriching them. A large portion of the local museums offer free admittance, or only charge a nominal fee, usually in the $2-$5 range. While this isgreat for the visitor, it doesn’t help the museum pay for their monetary needs.

How can we help these local facilities preserve our local heritage and history? What can we do to ensure these establishments remain in existence to protect and remember our past?

We can help these little time capsules in three major ways: Volunteer, Support and Promote, and Donate.

I can hear your arguments already. I don’t have time to volunteer. I don’t like to speak in front of people. I can never remember all that history for the docent spiel. I can’t commit to a regular volunteer schedule.

Never fear! Life is hectic and time is a premium for most of us. I certainly know that. Your local organizations know it too. But, there are ways to volunteer without committing to a huge weekly chunk of time. You don’t need to be a polished public speaker to help out your local historical treasure.


  • Be a docent on a weekly or monthly basis
  • Help with special events
  • Cataloge items
  • Collect oral histories
  • Write their newsletter
  • Write an article for a local paper
  • Assist with web site design
  • Aide with video services
  • Donate graphics or logos
  • Apply for grants
  • Help with cleaning, changing exhibits, or maintaining the premises


  • Become a member (of the museum, of the historical society, or of The Friends)
  • Attend special events
  • Bring visiting family and friends
  • Promote to family, friends, and neighbors
  • Promote on social media
  • Help with promotions/PR


  • Share your family’s stories
  • Donate items of local, or period, significance
  • Give contributions or endowments
  • Entrance fee only $2? Put $5, $10 or $20 in the basket instead.
  • Donate needed equipment like computers, printers, video recording equipment, tape recorders for oral history, stamps, printer paper, or ink cartridges. How about some cleaning supplies or trash bags? Legal pads, pens and pencils? Not sure what they need? Just ask!

museum_iowaI have a personal story to share, about how a group of volunteers worked together cohesively, to create a very successful event. In August 2014, I delivered a set of 1934 quilt squares to a museum in Iowa. The Taylor County Historical Society, and the entire community, welcomed me with open hearts showing me true Iowa hospitality. They planned a special tea and I flew in from Texas, taking 20 fliers with me, hoping that we’d have at least that many people attend.

The reception literally knocked my socks off. The museum, in the midst of rural Iowa complete with the surrounding corn fields as far as the eye could see, hosted 72 guests that afternoon. Many museums in urban areas with a much larger population would be excited to have a crowd that large.

QW5_Ellens poemThe only reason the day was so successful, was due to the time and efforts of their dedicated volunteers. Rosalyn Cummings, the (unpaid) director, worked tirelessly to coordinate the event. Helen Janson, past museum director, and her daughter, Jeanne Janson, spent time in research and brought copies of newspaper articles about the quilting club established in 1934. Ellen Lemke, the museum’s oldest volunteer at 99 years young (Now 100, as of May 2015) entertained the crowd with a lively talk about quilting and art, finishing with reading one of her poems on the subject. Bonnie Polston decorated a cake, complete with a coordinating Sunbonnet Sue, for the occasion. Other volunteers, Sandi Salen, Scott Marcum, Sandy Kennedy and Mary Lou Dukes, worked together seamlessly, greeting guests, getting more chairs as needed, helping serve cake and punch, besides the time and efforts they all put into this before the first guest arrived.

These wonderful volunteers are the ‘proof that’s in the pudding’. The love, care and concern that they have for their local museum shines out in all they do, even in the behind the scenes tasks that no one ever sees.

I hope something here resonates with you and urges you to contact your own local museum to see how you can be of assistance. There should be something that you can help with, without taking a huge amount of time or effort. I’m sure they’ll be ecstatic at your offer and you’ll have the satisfaction and pleasure of knowing you’re part of a group preserving the memories of the past. Your favorite museum can remain open and history is accessible to those interested in it.

Where is the hidden gem in your area?

Have you been there? Have you visited recently?

This week, give them a call. Check what hours they’re open and stop by for a visit. Take a peek into the past and see how you can be a friend to these local treasures.

Trisha Faye is enthusiastic about supporting and maintaining places of historic interest. Based in Roanoke, Texas, she writes of people from the past. Her ebooks include: Wash on Monday and Dear Arlie: Postcards from a Friend (1907-1913). She also compiled Texas Historic Museums: North Texas. Visit her at


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