Funding chronic issue at museum

Approaching almost a year of being in charge of the Seneca County Museum, the Seneca County Historical Society still is perfecting ways to balance educating the public and raising funds to keep the doors open.

Last February, county commissioners handed the reins of the museum to the historical society after deciding in May 2011 that the county would no longer fund the building.

“Last year was kind of rough being the first year and everything, but the public really stepped up and I hope they will step up more,” museum director Tonia Hoffert said.

She said she has had some contact with the new commissioners – Holly Stacy had her swearing-in ceremony at the museum last month, and Hoffert has met with Fred Zoeller on a couple of occasions.

“He was floored when he found out I was doing it all for free,” she said. “From that point, he wanted to know more about what was going on. He met with me, and he met with some of the (museum foundation). I’m just hoping they’ll come around and see that we’re all here for the same thing.”

While the historical society operates the museum, it gets some financial support from the museum foundation.

A few months back, the foundation provided funding to repair two windows at the museum, said Fran Fleet, foundation director.

She said the windows are to be repaired when weather improves.

Hoffert described the historical society’s relationship with the foundation as “touchy,” and said communication between the groups is not as strong as she would like.

“We would like to work with them, but it’s hard to work with a group that’s supposed to be here to support the museum, when they don’t meet at the museum, they don’t come to any events at the museum,” Hoffert said. “I don’t understand how any of them think they can be involved and want to help with the museum, when they don’t have any clue what’s going on.”

She said she met with Fleet for about 45 minutes after the foundation gave money to fix the windows, but there has been no contact since then.

Hoffert, who worked as a paid director for 12 years, is now working as a volunteer, but does the same work she did when she was getting paid.

“When you’re planning all these events and fundraisers and everything else, that kind of cuts into the time with being able to do that stuff, so it’s a big change for me,” she said. “I love the place; I wouldn’t want to work anyplace else, I don’t think.”

Mark Steinmetz, who is a member of the historical society, said the lack of funds has made members become more creative in supporting the museum – such as applying for more grants – but he said he wishes the group could focus more on historical events.

“Fundraising is great, but it takes away from the things that we would love to do, like getting the display up and running,” he said. “We’ve got the 100-year anniversary of the 1913 flood coming up. We have the War of 1812 building of Fort Ball coming up here. All these anniversaries and memorial things we’ve got coming up are things we love to do and give all of our attention to, but we’ve got to have a fundraiser here or something else there. Whatever support financially we can get from anybody, especially the commissioners, would be terrific if they could spare a bone or two our way, it would be wonderful.”

Some members of the society have been gathering information and pictures over the past few years to put together a pictorial timeline of the flood, Hoffert said.

She said there is no money to finish the project, so they are looking for a sponsor or maybe planning a fundraiser to complete the project.

“It’s always more about how are we going to keep the lights on and heat going, instead of actually trying to teach the history to the people,” Hoffert said.

Steinmetz has found Facebook is a good tool to reach out to the community and give them information about the history of Seneca County.

“First they comment because it’s so neat, then they comment because you haven’t done anything lately,” Steinmetz said.

Hoffert said the museum’s website gets about 2,000 hits a month, and as of Sunday the museum’s Facebook page has 222 “likes.”

“Every time (Brian Courtney) opens up a newspaper, he comes up with some other tidbit that we have never heard before, that is either sad or just makes us laugh so hard we’re crying about the things that have happened in this community,” Steinmetz said.

Courtney said he recently discovered that Tiffin almost had two cablevision systems in town in 1964.

In addition to Continental Cablevision, WTTF was planning on launching its own cablevision, but ultimately decided to sell out to Continental, he said.