Retiring Perham museum director makes plea for helpPublished 11:10am Tuesday, December 11, 2012
Perham’s newest museum, In Their Own Words, is a tribute to veterans, and is focused on collecting oral histories. Down the road, the History Museum of East Otter Tail County is not only a repository of local artifacts in a historic 1887 stone church, it is also hosts an efficient on-line system for researchers, history buffs and genealogists to find information.
Lina Belar is the director for both museums. When she retires in May, the board will face some financial challenges in addition to filling her shoes.
Belar can be credited with much of the success of the design and layout of ITOW, as well as incorporating new technology into exhibits.
“We had an advisor from the Minnesota Historical Society that said ‘never compromise your vision,’” said Belar. “You might not be able to do it like the big guys, but don’t lose your vision.”
Vision is aptly applied throughout ITOW, starting with a bright entry and use of negative space between exhibits, and carries on through video exhibits, at standing height and wheelchair height.
“It’s reminiscent of the military, with clean, crisp lines,” said Belar.
The storyline of the museum follows the lives of soldiers going to war, going into battle in different wars, being a prisoner of war, and, for the fortunate, returning home. It also contains stories of those that remained on the home front, people that spoke out for and against wars, and dealing with the aftermath of war.
“I see new things every time I go through the museum,” said board president Marcia Davis. “There is no other museum that I know of that does oral histories of veterans like that.”
But beyond the design and technology, the museum is really about recording, preserving and presenting young and old veterans speaking frankly about their experiences.
“I try and watch an interview every day I’m here,” said Irv Wegscheid, a veteran who has been volunteering at ITOW for the past five years.
“So far we have 250 veterans interviews archived, that are between one and two hours each,” said Belar. “Shorter excerpts are used for the exhibits so that people can listen to multiple stories as they walk through the museum.”
The local VFW, who originally owned the building, offered “very favorable” terms on selling it if the History Museum would help preserve veteran’s stories. ITOW Museum opened in 2006, and the facility includes opportunities for earned income, such as rental space and a thrift shop. However, the board currently does not have funding in place for the final installment of $625,000 which is due on the building in 2014. The museum has some funds that could be applied to pay the loan down, but a significant amount will have to be raised.
In addition, the board must also anticipate an increase in its operating budget, since Belar was working for a dollar a year.
“Lina has worked her heart out,” said Davis. “We have a great board with vision, and specific plans. We have outstanding events, and are planning on launching an interactive website in January.”
Two great museums, planning and enthusiasm may not be enough to raise the necessary funds in a short period time. The museum board appealed to the Perham City Council Monday, explaining their financial situation and seeking their advice and support.
The note for the ITOW building is held by Midwest Minnesota Community Development Corporation, a non-profit organization that provides capital resources to assist in community development throughout Minnesota and the Midwest.
The city council relayed that their finance committee had met, and tabled any decision making on the museum’s request for support until its January meeting. They want to see the museum follow through on requests made by MMCDC.
“MMCDC gave us some specific things to accomplish, which the board has been working on,” said Karen Crabtree, vice president of the museum board. “They want the board work on specific fundraising goals and fulfilling some of the pledges that are outstanding.”
Crabtree said the MMCDC has been very helpful, arranging for a consultant to work with the museum board on fundraising, board training and strategic planning. The board must fulfill the MMCDC requirements before they will consider options like refinancing or extending the term of the loan.
“In the past the museum has had some financial difficulties,” said Crabtree. “We have a new, stronger board, and ideas already in place. We just completed an annual support campaign, and donations are still coming in from that.”
“ITOW is very unique and powerfully done,” said Davis. “It has the capacity to be recognized on a national scale.”
“When I walk through the museum I can see the stories of the veterans that I knew,” said Crabtree. “I can feel their stories even though they are not here anymore.”
For more information, or to make a donation, contact Lina Belar, In Their Own Words Veterans Museum, 805 West Main, Perham, MN 56573. Call 218 346-7678 or email email@example.com