Chamber hears proposal to combine Culver museum, visitor’s center

Members of a Culver museum steering committee shared a vision they hope will address two of what they feel are Culver's needs -- that of a dedicated center to act as a "one stop shop" for visitors to the community seeking any and all information about Culver, and that of a center preserving the stories of Culver's past -- with the Culver Chamber of Commerce last week.

Following discussion by Chamber president Tony Sellers of the national ice fishing tournament scheduled for the weekend following the meeting -- which took place Feb. 5 at the Culver Coffee Company on Lake Shore Drive -- Sellers introduced George Duncan, head of the museum committee, an offshoot of the Antiquarian and Historical Society of Culver.

Duncan explained the committee was formed following a "town hall" style meeting last spring to facilitate community discussion as to the future of the Center for Culver History, the local historical museum presently located in the lower level of the Culver Public Library, but slated to leave that building, due to a library board decision, this October.

Duncan said the committee, which is made up of representatives of the town, rural, lake, and Culver Academies communities, was examining the museum from the perspective of each of those areas, as well as that of visitors to the area, at a committee workshop last November.

"The vviewpoint from the tourist, or visitor, was enlightening," he said, noting "Culver is a town without a center for community and visitor information."

Duncan outlined the primary work of the museum, which includes preservation of local artifacts and education, pointing out it "tells the story of Culver" through the history of its people, topography, flora, fauna, schools, businesses, churches, and the like. A visitor's center, he said, also tells the story of the community -- its people, topography, flora, fauna, schools, businesses, churches, and the like.

A tourist center would also provide maps, as well as information about local organizations, clubs, and upcoming events. The latter, he said, would be represented by a large, visible community calendar displayed in the proposed visitor's center.

The visitor's center-museum would provide pamphlets, brochures, announcements, and history of local organizations, businesses, churches, and schools, Duncan said, as well as information for visitor's as to local activities such as parks, walking and biking areas, the lake, and real estate options.

The combination of a visitor's center and museum is "not a new concept," noted Duncan, who also provided a list of many similar ventures around the country and state, though he said this would be the very first he's aware of in Marshall County.

"The objective," he added, "is to help the local community with current information, and help visitors on their visits to Culver, and to strike a chord of interest that makes them want to return."

He said the committee hoped to use the Chamber as one of many sounding boards for the idea, and also hoped the need for a visitor's center (and museum) could be incorporated into the town's upcoming comprehensive plan.

Rachel Meade, current director of the Center for Culver History, added that the sort of questions regularly asked at the museum are evidence of the need for a visitor's center, as many of them center on questions of where to find certain activities, meals, and other accommodations in the Culver area.

Jeff Kenney, also a member of the committee, noted the value of the visitor's center and museum combination also lay in having trained, informed, and dedicated staff able to steer visitors and locals alike to whatever information they need, rather than the current problem of some visitors potentially receiving insufficient information since no single venue exists to consolidate it. He also suggested more grant and other funding opportunities may open up for a visitor's center, as opposed to a museum alone.

Duncan also said the committee has been planning for a temporary space to house the museum this fall, and has been examining a number of local sites.

Meade gave two examples of current museum and AHS projects which exemplify the crossover between local history endeavors and tourism-minded efforts. One, she said, is an Indiana Humanities grant-funded brochure laying out historic-oriented walking routes in the Culver area, including the downtown and "uptown" business areas and hopefully the shoreline area of Culver Academies, to be published later this year.

Another is a short video documentary -- funded largely by the Marshall County Community Foundation's Ralph Vonnegut grant -- on the history of the Culver and Lake Maxinkuckee area which she said is likely to draw more interest in the area in general, also expected to be completed later this year.

Lengthy and enthusiastic discussion of the visitor's center project followed, with a variety of suggestions as to specific location and identity of the venture. Kenney noted the committee expected to bring the idea before a number of other local entities in the coming weeks and months.

In other discussion, Sellers outlined other major Chamber events slated for 2013, including the student-teacher Top Ten dinner April 2 at Pretty Lake Methodist Church, the Taste of Culver in June, Lake Fest in July, Lake Maxinkuckee Triathlon August 10, and the Chamber-sponsored Culver Wine Fair Sept. 14 at the Culver Cove. A joint Chamber and Second Century dinner meeting will take place Nov. 5, said Sellers, and the Christmas in Culver shopping event the Nov. 1 weekend. The annual tree lighting and caroling event, when local stores will stay open late and offer shopping incentives will take place Dec. 6.

Sellers reported Bobbie Ruhnow, Chamber secretary for the past 15 years, is retiring from the position, to be replaced by Brandy Pohl in March.

Also discussed was the need for a Culver community calendar unifying the various events and entities of the area. Culver Citizen editor Jeff Kenney, noting he already works with a similar calendar on the Internet to keep track of newspaper-relevant events, offered to try to set up such a calendar publicly, to which many members responded positively.

The Chamber's slate of officers was also explained, including Sellers as president, Sue McInturff vice president, Ben Schaller treasurer, and Pohl as executive secretary.