The Pettis County Museum is on the brink of shutting down and may close its doors within months unless the group which runs the museum can raise funds to keep it operating.
The museum’s fiscal situation began in 2004 when the Pettis County Historical Society was given its synagogue building by the local Jewish congregation Temple Beth-el that had been dissolved. At the time, some of the Society artifacts had for many years been on display in the Pettis County Courthouse lobby. The gift of the building enabled the establishment of the museum and relocation of the artifacts. Over the years, the reality of maintaining the building, and keeping utilities current, took a toll of the already meager treasury of the society. Attendance at the museum also never has reached viable numbers, due primarily to the poor location, far from the historic district around the courthouse.
The museum receives no funding beyond that of membership dues, a few yearly fundraisers and the gifts of a few individuals who can no longer afford to do so. It has been forced the past few years to limit operations to two days per week from May to October, and has not been able to offer any further services such as genealogical research or in depth education programs for students and the public in general.
At the society’s monthly meeting Monday, members heard of the museum’s financial dire straits from the Historical Society’s Secretary and Treasurer Clell Furnell.
“I don’t see how we can have this museum stay open the way it’s going,” said Furnell. “We’re financially broke.”
Furnell said the annual membership dues would have to be increased from $15 to around $88 for the society’s 77 members in order to keep paying the $561.83 per month utility costs to maintain the facility. The property itself is wholly owned by the Historical Society.
Members discussed other options for the museum such as applying for grants or asking the City of Sedalia. Historical Society President Rhonda Chalfant said there are grants available for some museums, but not the Pettis County Museum.
“There are some grants available for museums, but only for those with paid staff. We don’t have it,” Chalfant said.
She said money is available from the Sedalia Convention and Visitors Bureau as well, but those funds are slated just for advertising.
Furnell said the museum has had discussions with the owners of the now-defunct Sedalia News-Observer about purchasing its former building in downtown Sedalia. Furnell said the owners would sell it to them for $28,000, but that the building needs a significant amount of interior work. He said the funds for the purchase of that building would require the society to sell the museum’s current building.
A Letter to the Editor published in the Sept. 28 edition of the Democrat by Historical Society Vice President Kenneth Bird suggested that more community involvement could help maintain the museum.
“The preservation of the history of Pettis County should be the responsibility of all its citizens. We have seen what community action can produce in viewing the well done Trails End Memorial at the Fairgrounds. The spirit that produced that project can also be applied to the resurrection of the county museum. The cost of doing so will be much less than that expended on the Trails End project,” Bird wrote.
Bird and other society members at the meeting said the city and the county should help fund the museum.
“A combination of funding from Pettis County, the City of Sedalia , tourism funds, and other organizations could easily cover the estimated $10,000 per year operating costs,” Bird wrote.
Furnell said the society’s next step is to approach the City of Sedalia and Pettis County to solicit some funding for the museum’s operations. However, Furnell said such requests have been denied in the past.
Friday is the last day for the museum to be open to the public for 2016. Should the museum not reopen, Furnell said the exhibits will be moved into storage until such a time that the society can procure adequate funding.
The Pettis County Historical Society will remain a viable organization if the museum closes.
The society will host its annual Train Show fundraiser all day Oct. 29 at the Liberty Park Convention Hall.