Culver museum looks to community to decide its future

If things seem quiet in Culver regarding the Antiquarian and Historical Society of Culver and its museum and research facility, The Center for Culver History, it’s not because nothing’s happening, say Jim Peterson, AHS President, and Jim Sawhook, Vice President (and Museum Manager).
In the months since the October, 2010 decision from the Culver-Union Township Public Library board of directors to give the AHS notice to vacate the room occupied by the Center since late 2006, Peterson and Sawhook say the organization -- though reeling a bit from the decision -- has been far from dormant. Instead, there’s been a great deal of conversation, discussion, and regrouping, as the AHS’ own board of directors, members, and supporters examine various options.
The organization’s hope, says Peterson, is for the Society to move to a new location, but to do so “we will need the support of the community and not just the members of AHS.”
Peterson, who says the AHS plans to have more information to share with the community this spring, notes the group’s roughly 200 members have been actively enhancing the Culver community, and helping to preserve and celebrate its diverse history, for the past 20 years.
Lifelong Culver resident Sherrill Fujimurra agrees. “The Antiquarian Society has worked tirelessly throughout the years,” she says, “to restore and keep alive the unique history of our small Midwestern town. Volunteers have given of their time and money to preserve the characteristics of the original settlers to present day citizens.”
Peterson describes AHS efforts including the cleanup of the site at the southwest corner of Main and Jefferson Streets and establishment there of Heritage Park; the designation of several sites in the area to the National Register of Historic Places; the creation of a replica of the circa 1894 lighthouse in the Town Park; and the publication of a number of items of historical interest, both print and digital. In addition, he says, the AHS has been preserving Culver’s history through its collections -- currently housed in the museum -- as well as through various programs and events on an ongoing basis in the community.
As was discussed with the library board in October, Peterson points out the library’s historic 1914 Carnegie rooms now occupied by the Center for Culver History, were renovated by the AHS at a cost to its members of more than $100,000 -- $40,000 of which was funded by a Marshall County Community Foundation grant -- and no tax dollars were used. In the months since the renovation was completed, thousands more have been put into upgrades and operation of the museum as well.
That room, Sawhook notes, has provided local history research services, as well as an educational and entertaining experience of Culver’s history, for visitors of all ages.
Those are opportunities the AHS hopes to continue to provide into the future for the community, but Peterson hopes the people of the Culver area will step forward with ideas and assistance, both volunteer and financial.
In December, the AHS hosted Stacy Klingler, Assistant Director of Local History Services with the Indiana Historical Society in Indianapolis, for the first of a series of workshops to help facilitate the relocation of the museum. Attended by members of the AHS board and its museum committees, the meeting solicited input from the manifold perspectives of participants on the value of a local history museum and its hoped-for contents and offerings to the various elements making up the Culver community.
In workshop discussions, it was noted the Center for Culver History is the first and only entity in the 150-plus year history of Culver to collect, preserve, and share the rich history of the area, both for locals and visitors.
Also highlighted was the value a museum adds to the face of the community from a business and tourism point of view, with the point made that visitors to a community often wish to learn the high points and interesting or unusual facets of its history and background. Further, the potential economic advantages of bringing people into Culver to visit the museum or conduct genealogical research were highlighted.
The educational component of a museum was also stressed, whether for adults conducting research of one sort or another, or the children of the community whose sense of civic pride and community investment is enhanced by visiting a local history museum.
A museum also provides a destination space, whether for families seeking an afternoon diversion, or for programs, events, and meetings sponsored by the AHS for the benefit of the community, the group discussed. This also adds a social component to the museum, as a space where community members can come together, examining and celebrating their shared heritage.
Additionally, many participants agreed it’s important, in Klinger’s words, to “keep Culver in Culver.” While the AHS continues to enjoy a warm relationship with the Marshall County Historical Museum in Plymouth, AHS members present agreed that many Culver residents are hesitant to deposit the artifacts and research materials of their past at the county seat, if a local option for accessing those preserved materials exists.
And then there’s the importance of preserving the stories of Culver’s people.
"To me, the museum is an important part of telling Culver’s history," says Culver resident and Town Council President Ginny Munroe, "in that it allows us to experience that history in a very human way. Museums also capture the spirit of the voices of those who came before us, and (I believe) history is an account of many voices...”
Adds museum volunteer Marizetta Kenney, “There are still people living in this town who could tell you what it was like when their grandparents or great-grandparents came to this many people have been interviewed, to preserve our history in oral tradition. Those memories, too, need a repository...interviews combined with pictures, with written history, with objects - these things bring Culver’s history to life. That is what our museum can do for this community.”
The museum has also served, argued some participants, and hopefully will only grow in serving, as a unifying force within the Culver community, bridging the various communities of the town of Culver, Lake Maxinkuckee area, rural Union Township, and Culver Academies, both by celebrating the histories of all, and by providing a place for residents of each to cross paths and work together.
Sawhook and those involved in the museum were moved and grateful for the groundswell of support from community members for the Center, both at the October library meeting, and in the weeks and months since. They hope it’s an indication of the support the museum will receive as they move forward with discussions and planning for the museum’s future. He stresses that financial support from all of the Culver communities will also be required.
Munroe quotes poet and Pulitzer prize winner Robert Penn Warren: “History cannot give us a program for the future, but it can give us a fuller understanding of ourselves, and of our common humanity, so that we can better face the future.”
“I hope the museum remains a priority for those in the community,” adds Munroe, following up on Warren’s words, “as I would hate for future generations to be disconnected from this part of their own humanity.”