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Editorial: Chehalis Valley Historical Museum needs our help

Last week, I became an official dues-paying member of the Chehalis Valley Historical Society.

And, trust me, it needed the money.

With just a pittance of funds in the bank account, its bills are stacking up and we’re all going to be pretty lucky if the museum makes it through the rough financial times this year. For one thing, Montesano Mayor Ken Estes recently notified the group that the city would no longer be providing $3,000 in financial assistance to the society. That’s a pretty big hit at a time when revenue is already down.

In fact, it’s the second time the city has taken a step back from helping the museum. Board members say that the city used to own the museum building and grounds at 703 West Pioneer Ave., but the city turned it back to the historical society a couple of years back.

“The city no longer wanted the responsibility,” explains Board Vice Chairman Bruce Hooper.

At their monthly board meeting last week, historical society members dwelled on what was about to happen. They recently spent $1,500 on a new heater — but that means they will have to start paying heating bills. But, without a heater, it meant that the fragile artifacts in the museum may have started to rust or be plagued by mold. One board member recently paid more than $400 out of pocket to get current on a bunch of bills.

There was talk of getting financial assistance from the Grays Harbor PUD, but to do that, the museum would need to install the proper insulation, more energy-efficient windows and make other upgrades — all of which it can’t afford.

Plus, the museum’s basement full of artifacts and family histories remains dead cold still. It’s only the museum floor that gets heat — a problem that board members say must be dealt with at some point.

There was serious talk of what the museum could do without. The museum is mandated to have garbage service because the museum pays utilities in the city. If it turned off its water that means no toilets. Does the museum need a phone service? Since it’s all volunteer operated, probably not. There was talk of shifting the phones to an online voice mail service. That could save a little bit of money there.

County Commissioner Wes Cormier, who was at last week’s meeting, noted that there wasn’t a whole lot the county could do. The county manages a chunk of funds using the lodging tax that visitors pay at local motels and hotels, but the state has restricted how those funds are spent. The funds are fine to spend on festivals and events that bring people in. Heck, the county event spent funds on new signs for the museum up at Amanda Park recently. However, the state restricts its use so that the money can’t be used on operational costs — like heating and water bills. It’s possible some kind of tourism-related event could be hosted by the historical society to draw people into the museum.

There was even talk of selling some of the non-East County-related artifacts in the museum to generate revenue.

In 1984, the historical society was founded by Randy Beerbower and Mike Clark, who had a vision that the communities within the Chehalis Valley needed a museum to preserve the history of the area, according to an article posted on the city’s website. As a result, the Chehalis Valley Historical Society was incorporated on Aug. 27, 1984. The first meeting of the organization was held on Oct. 4, 1984, in Elma.

The museum opened in the summer of 1985, in the old Rainier Bank Building in Elma. About two years later, the landlord tripled the rent, making it impossible to remain at that location. The museum later purchased the quaint, 1906 Scandinavian Lutheran Church at 703 W. Pioneer Ave., Montesano, and reopened in its current location on March 19, 1988.

The museum used to have an agreement with the city that because it was taking city money, they had to be open at least eight hours a week. The museum has been open from noon to 4 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays and other times by appointment.

Now that the city has discontinued its financial partnership with the museum, then it’s a good chance the museum may reduce its hours.

The real question remains — will the museum be forced to close? And, if so, what would happen to all of the amazing artifacts inside of it?

Those are real questions facing museum board members, who really don’t want to close.

Yet they have a $1,000 insurance bill staring them in the face. And, if they don’t pay it, that means they’ll be forced to close. It’s not like the museum can just keep its doors open without insurance. There are too many liability issues at play.

In the coming weeks, board members will be sending out letters to existing members and asking them for donations.

The board has been hesitant to ask its members for dues again because they can’t afford to do a newsletter right now. The thought is, would members really pay dues if they don’t get anything for it?

I think, if the members know the museum is on the brink of closing, they’ll be happy to ensure the museum survives. Dues are just $10 each or $30 for “supporters.” Write to 703 Pioneer Ave W, Montesano, WA 98563 for more information or contact a board member with details.

Commissioner Cormier and I both became dues-paying members and gave a little extra. Buttons are on sale at the museum for $3 each — buy one and show your pride for the museum.

In December, the city of McCleary flirted with stopping payment on its financial assistance to the McCleary Museum in a bid to save money. The city had been giving the museum $1,500 to pay its utility bills. The McCleary Chamber of Commerce has stepped up and is raising funds to save the museum and, after all of the negative feedback, McCleary Mayor Gary Dent has said even if the funds aren’t raised, he’ll ensure the museum’s utilities stay on.

We need to all stand together and ensure our museums don’t close down. If we don’t respect our city’s history, what’s the point in carving out a future?

Steven Friederich is editor of The Vidette. Contact him at editor@thevidette.com

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