Museum Musings – Preserving History
By: Gini Woodward
Sept 5, 2009
A few Saturdays ago, I was sitting at a picnic table outside the Exhibit Hall at the fairgrounds, as part of a group of volunteer superintendents setting up and preparing for the fair. Looking at the continually improving fairgrounds, on a North Idaho Granite boulder, I read for the first time in about fifty years the 4-H pledge. “I pledge: my head to clearer thinking, my heart to greater loyalty, my hands to larger service, and my health to better living, for my club, my community, my country and my world.” Memories flooded my mind of my own youthful years of 4-H meetings and projects, the Moran Prairie Fair south of Spokane, and those old women who taught me to hem a tea towel, bake biscuits, finish record books and encouraged me to continue in spite of the white ribbon at the fair. As I read that pledge, I realized 4-H was training for not just skills but for a way of living that perpetuates community service and volunteerism, the heart of countless organizations, including the Boundary County Historical Society.
Week after week this past year I have donated a few hours of my time to bring you stories of the history of Boundary County mostly gleaned from the History of Boundary County, a 655 page volume first published in 1986. Over a hundred dedicated community volunteers spent 7,500 plus hours collecting stories and photographs, organizing and editing a book, which received state recognition at the Idaho Centennial. It is by the commitment of those volunteers that many stories of the early years have been preserved for our learning and enjoyment today. Volume I was reprinted in 2008 by the current historical society and there are plans to reprint pictorial Volume II in the near future. The photo today was taken as the volunteers celebrated their accomplishment and contribution to the community. Nearly 25 more years of history have accumulated since the publication of the two volumes. What and how this history is preserved is one of the tasks of the volunteers at our local museum.
Why is preserving history so important? What does it have to do with today? Sure it may be interesting to look at old cook stoves, cream separators, logging tools, photos and the like, but what does that have to do with who we are now and where we are going? Imagine the thrill of being able to cross the Kootenai River by bridge rather than by ferry in 1905. What would your vehicle have been? Understanding where we have been helps us know about today and give a clue where we might be headed, or might not want to go. It takes a community to preserve our heritage. It takes a community to develop our museum. It takes volunteers to power our museum. It takes money to maintain and operate our museum.
The Boundary County Historical Society, Inc., is a 501(c)3 charitable organization managed by an elected board of trustees, currently seven, but seeking two additional board members. Boundary County currently funds approximately a quarter of the museum operating expenses. Additional income sources are memberships, admissions, donations, rental income, fundraisers, grants, gift shop and publication sales. The recent railroad program and ice cream social during the All Class Reunion benefited the museum just over $300, which will be used toward the restoration and installation of the old railroad signal in the Railroad History courtyard. The restoration and installation costs are expected to reach $2,000. The new railroad history interpretive signs and lights were funded in part by a grant from the Idaho Humanities Council, which was matched in-kind by the efforts of many volunteers.
In addition to the operation of the museum, the historical society is facing structural issues in the buildings, which need to be addressed before long. Evaluations are being conducted by an architect and engineer from Idaho Heritage Trust. Plans are underway for the Smithsonian traveling exhibit Journey Stories, which is scheduled to be in Bonners Ferry May 28 to July 10, 2010. There is work to be done on exhibits, programs, etc. The luxury of volunteer work is choosing when and how you participate. For instance, I really hate cleaning toilets but I enjoy sitting at my computer tapping away, so that is some of what I do to support our museum. Patty organizes the library while Orrin writes the checks. Don paints and pounds nails while Terry field researches. Howard searches the microfilms while Vicki records and Jan greets guests. Currently, there are 42 volunteers donating regular or intermittent time to the museum, each contributing skills doing what they enjoy. Curator Sue Kemmis matches tasks to the volunteers and is seeking more volunteers.
As the historical society’s fiscal year draws to a close, fundraising efforts are far beneath budget expectations. Publication of the museum newsletter, programs, exhibits and archival storage are dependent on community support. Please join the 42 community volunteers to support the preservation of community heritage by donating time or money. Your tax deductible donation may be sent to the Boundary County Historical Society PO Box 808 Bonners Ferry, ID 83805 or visit the museum and join the historical society today!
Summer hours continue through September, Tuesday through Saturday, 10am to 4pm.