The future of the Zeeland Historical Society was on everyone’s mind on Thursday evening, November 8, as more than 60 members, volunteers, and supporters gathered for the Society’s annual dinner in the banquet room of the Howard Miller Community Center.
After a delicious meal catered by the Wooden Shoe Restaurant in Holland, MI, ZHS member and volunteer Debbie Albert recounted the early days of the historical society beginning in 1974. She honored the people who carefully put together and cataloged the treasured collections now housed and displayed in the Society’s Dekker Huis Museum.
Over its last nearly 45 years, the Society has shared the rich heritage of our community with people of all ages through a variety of exhibitions, activities, and events. That work continues by an ever-diminishing group of volunteers who see the need for a new way of structuring and managing this vital cultural treasure while increasing its value to the community.
Next, Mr. Timothy Chester, director emeritus of the Grand Rapids Public Museum, addressed the group about the Society’s potential and its prospects. He has been contracted in his capacity as a museum consultant to guide the Zeeland Historical Society in its quest to acquire a full-time director with a background in museum management. His work began with one-on-one interviews conducted last spring with many community leaders – focusing on their thoughts and aspirations for the society’s future.
Mr. Chester observed that the volunteers who founded the Dekker Huis Museum educated themselves by attending conferences and seminars dedicated to training museum volunteers and staff on best practices in the management of museums and historic homes. Their dedication to excellence is evident in today’s museum and its archives as well as in the restored New Groningen Schoolhouse.
However, it has become apparent in Zeeland as well as in other communities around Michigan and across the nation that those early volunteers were a phenomenon of their time. The number of people who have the capacity and ability to volunteer full-time for multiple years is now sharply reduced. In order to maintain the museum at the professional level that was once provided by those uncompensated volunteer professionals, the ZHS board has voted unanimously to pursue hiring one full-time staff person with training and experience in this field.
The historical society would continue to rely upon a robust team of volunteers, but the director would provide leadership for them as well as be the face of the historical society in the community. A director would also enhance the ongoing fundraising capacity of the society by forming key relationships, writing proposals for grants, and developing other appropriate income.
The goal would be to significantly increase hours of operation; develop new and relevant historical experiences, exhibits, and public programs for Zeeland’s rapidly growing population; better leverage resources to serve the community’s economy and quality of life; and increase engagement in service to local K12 public and private school districts. Interns from university and college history programs would also be welcomed.
After reviewing the board’s work in determining an appropriate annual salary of $45,000 plus benefits, Chester described how an ideal annual budget figure of $135,715 was researched and adopted. The board also resolved to seek pledges for a full three years of operational funding that includes some needed capital expenditures, for a total of $366,537.
Chester closed his remarks by praising the Historical Society’s engaging vision for the next 45 years. He noted that it was in complete alignment with the national plan called for by the American Alliance of Museums wherein museums are urged to master the art of civic engagement. He ended his talk with a quote from that call:
In any community, a museum is a special place. It holds treasures, marvels, and stories - old and new. A museum has the authority and responsibility to highlight objects and ideas that compel, challenge, inspire and move people to be more reflective, critical and humane. But all too frequently, museums are considered merely sources of childhood memories, places to take out-of-town visitors, or institutions that are elitist, inaccessible, detached or irrelevant. Too often, they are on the sidelines of civic life. Museums are taking up a noble challenge - to stretch their boundaries, step away from the sidelines, come to the center of civic life, and become a more active participant and even a leader in social-capital and community-building processes.
Written by Timothy Chester and Mary Christopher, November 2018