E-Newsletter for the
Friends of the Bullitt County History Museum
January 22, 2011 (Volume 7, Number 2)
Special Edition - Annual Report
As promised in earlier editions, this edition is a special report newsletter, reporting on how we did and what we did in 2010.
It was quite a year, building on the great work of previous years. This is a lengthy report, so let's get to it.
First, A Very Brief History.
Around the year 2000 or so, when Bullitt County government was considering replacing the old county courthouse, it was decided that the majority of the old building, built in 1900, would be replaced. But the ornate front section would be kept, and the floor space of that section would be reserved for a county history museum. The Bullitt County Genealogical Society, a 501(c)3 non-profit organization, began making arrangements for the museum. In 2003, retired from my career at General Electric Company, and a lifelong lover of history, I spent a year restoring The Old Stone Jail. About that time, the Society contracted with me to oversee the new museum's operations. In October 2004, the day the combination new and renovated courthouse opened, the Bullitt County History Museum, a service of the Bullitt County Genealogical Society also opened its doors for the first time. It was the first-ever county-wide history museum for Bullitt County.
And the rest, as they say, is history.
And that history continues, thanks to the arrangement with county government and the support of hundreds of good people like you.
The county provides floor space and utilities. The Genealogical Society provides the staffing, artifacts, furniture, computers, and the research that make us what we are. And thanks to very generous donations from Publishers Printing and several others over the years, we have been allowed to flourish.
Thanks to our dedicated and talented Volunteers, the Museum has won eight state-wide awards and recently been recognized on the Congressional level. We have provided valuable service to government agencies and to hundreds of citizens, and we have hosted thousands of visitors from Kentucky and at least thirty-five states and three countries.
But the best recognition of all that we have received is what some state officials and others have said: That we are "the best front door to any county courthouse in the state." I and most of our volunteer staff have personally witnessed people who come to the courthouse unhappy because of some business they must attend to, but leave with a smile after they stop in our display rooms or chat with our Volunteers. Many of their remarks are recorded in our visitor register, but the most common remark has been "I didn't know we had so much history. Now I do!"
Report on 2010.
(More detail of our museum activity can be found by reading my monthly newsletters, available here.)
Museum Staff. I continue to be so proud of our group of dedicated and skilled staff of Volunteers! In 2010 we logged 3,521 hours of time at the museum. A huge number in itself, but that is only the time that staff members were signed-in at the museum. I suspect the real time is twice that, because we don't measure the countless hours that we all spend outside of office hours, such as doing research on our own, speaking to organizations, documenting cemeteries, writing papers, etc.
The 3,521 hours are about the same as given for year 2009, but with a couple of notable changes. 1. Starting sometime in 2009, hours jumped to that level, which translates to an average of 1 1/2 to 2 people on staff at the museum at all times. And 2. starting in late 2009 and continuing in 2010, the hours are spread out over more people. Both items are great news! Since we opened in 2004, a critical operation philosophy of mine has been to have the museum open and someone there on staff whenever the courthouse is open. And, with almost no exceptions, we have always been able to do that, every weekday, 8:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. (and 6:00 p.m. on Thursdays) day in and day out, year-round. I believe that makes us a more dependable, and therefor more used, entity.
With the increase in Volunteer hours beginning in 2009 and continuing in 2010, we are now not only able to have someone there to help visitors, we can have additional people doing continuing research and documentation and helping visitors do research. And with the hours spread out over more people, the museum is less dependent on any one person, including myself. That means that, though each one of us is important, the museum organization is becoming more and more self-sustaining. That is, frankly, if anything happens to any one of us, the museum itself will go on. That is a firm management belief of mine; that the first job of a leader is to develop future leaders to replace him, so the organization will go on.
We picked up four new regular staff Volunteers this year, and, as with all our Volunteers, each one brings new and important talents to the table.
Wilma Lemons came on at the first of 2010 and has been fantastic. She is a great typist and has devoted much of her time to documenting research and transcribing papers to computer. She also did tremendous work documenting many hundreds of tombstones in the Brookland Cemetery. Though Wilma's real job keeps her from working scheduled hours at the museum, she still logged 478 hours in 2010. And that is only a fraction, compared to the time she spent at home typing up documents and databases for us.
Sherry Lee and her husband Ed Lee, have been working with us at the museum since 2008, but Sherry only began signing in officially in mid 2010. Ed and Sherry cover the museum on Tuesday afternoons, with Ed logging 267 official hours and Sherry 115. In addition, both spend about an equal amount of time at our public libraries doing research for us and on the Lee family.
Carol Houchens started with us toward the end of 2010 under the "ExperienceWorks" program, a national charitable job assistance program for elders in our community. Carol logged 81 hours at the museum, helping with our obituary filing, helping organize information, and even helping clean the display rooms.
Brenda Rittman also started with us in late 2010. Brenda, who had recently retired from her career job, stopped by the museum one day in November, looking into volunteer possibilities. Boy are we glad she did! Already skilled at genealogical research, she was a quick fit in our organization, helping visitors do research while helping us as well. Brenda recently started covering the museum on Thursdays. Just starting with us in December, Brenda logged only 20 hours in 2010, but I hope for that to be a very large number in 2011.
And speaking of 2011, I must report briefly of another Volunteer who started with us at the first of this year. Mark Milliner had been coming by more and more regularly in 2010 doing research at our museum. Another greatly skilled and energetic researcher, I look forward to Mark working with us at the museum. He is currently covering the first half of Fridays for us.
Our long-time staff Volunteers include:
Barbara and Ken Bailey who helped start the museum and are an important part of the Genealogical Society. Barbara logged 252 hours staffing the museum on Fridays, plus doing much outside research and cemetery work.
Daniel Buxton logged 247 hours, covering Thursday mornings, but also does a tremendous amount of outside work. He is currently President of the genealogical society and Chairman of the cemetery documentation team, which has logged some 250 of the 300 cemeteries in the county, including GPS locations and over 5000 photos. Daniel has done some work documenting old schools, and has done a lot of work on our local African-American history.
Bob Cline is another long-time worker at the museum. Sadly, Bob has struggled with family illness this year and hasn't been able to be at the museum as much as past years. But he still logged 217 hours and has created a genealogy database of over 20,000 names, with resource documentation.
Judy Richardson is one of our strong and reliable Volunteers. Judy has been with us for quite a while now and we are so very proud to have her with us. Not only is she unquestioningly dependable, covering the museum faithfully every Wednesday afternoon logging 287 hours; I know she can also handle most any situation that comes up. And that actually can be quite a bit. Our museum door is always open, and we seem to have developed a reputation that if anyone can answer a question, the museum folks can. Because of that, we get a lot of people calling and stopping by asking where to go for this, or how to do that. All of our staff learns pretty quickly such things. All handle it well, but I know I don't have to worry about a thing when Judy's in charge. Judy has also done significant research for the museum, in particular in 2010, when she completed pretty extensive research and wrote a paper on Gardner McKay, a TV star of the 1950's/60's who is buried in Bullitt County, for which she was nominated for a Kentucky Historical Society award.
José Rosario has been a particular standout this year. José began with the museum, I believe, in 2008, or before, under the Experience Works program, during which he fell in love with history, in particular the American Civil War. When the Experience Works program ended for him, he continued on as a Volunteer, and has been a fantastic part of the museum staff. In 2010, José received a Kentucky Historical Society award and much positive publicity for the museum, for his work on Henry Mattingly, a Civil War Congressional Medal of Honor recipient buried in Lebanon Junction. Just this week, he brought further recognition to our museum, receiving a letter of commendation from Congressman Brett Guthrie. José takes a big load off of me by often opening the museum in the mornings, and covering the museum whenever he can, logging 647 hours in 2010. This number is actually small for him. He had over 1100 hours in 2009!
And myself, David Strange, logged 847 official hours in 2010, down from over a thousand in 2009 and some 1250 hours in the years before that. The reduced hours reflect some other outside endeavors that I was involved in in 2010, but also reflects the very positive spreading out of hours over more Volunteers. It also allows me to do even more representative work for the museum, such as visiting other organizations, hosting information booths, writing my monthly newsletters, and generally spreading the good word about our wonderful little museum and about Bullitt County. Those outside-the-museum hours probably add up to about the same as the in-museum hours. I am under contract with the genealogical society to be the museum's Executive Director, and receive a stipend of $5,400 a year for that work.
Our wonderfully devoted staff of helpful, talented, knowledgeable, Volunteers (I use a capital "V" on purpose) is a dramatic key to the success of our museum.
These hours reported here also do not reflect the many other Volunteers who help the museum, though they might not actually be at the museum. Several people, such as Betty Darnell, Lynn Eddington, Shirley Miller, (and others I am no doubt neglecting as I write this) are almost on call to help us. In fact, I often do call them, asking for help on a research question or just to fill a staffing gap at the museum for a couple of hours, and I think they have always came though for us. We have developed quite an impressive "network of knowledge" in which even I am often surprised at how quickly we can come up with an answer.
All that success is also becoming a problem. Our small research room often has as many as eight and ten people in it at a time, including Volunteers and visitors, doing research and asking for help. Our popularity is making our small space really crowded and crazy sometimes from all the activity.
Financially, there have been several keys to our success. But we also still have a big hurdle to overcome.
A vital key to our ongoing success has been the partnership with Bullitt County government. The biggest problem with most all small museums is the facility costs. I have been to many small museums across the state, and even many of the long-established ones are closing or constantly stay on the brink of closing because of the large costs of owning, maintaining, and insuring their own building. The relationship that was established with Bullitt County government at our beginning, providing us floorspace and utilities, has been a tremendous plus for Bullitt County. Without that housing worry, the museum is able to focus on helping the citizens of Bullitt County, and all people can learn about our county free of charge. Indeed, without that support, the financial survivability of the museum would be in real question. But with it, we are able to support the county with ongoing research and documentation, such as listing veterans who died while in the military, creation of lists and photos of past officials, and generally guiding people and government agencies on obtaining historical and genealogical information that otherwise would have been nearly impossible to do.
Additionally, Publishers Printing company stepped forward for us at the beginning, providing two $50,000 grants that helped us get established and has helped sustain us over the past years. We have also benefited over the years from several smaller-but-nonetheless-generous donations from other businesses and individuals over the years, as well as several grants. And I am very proud of our work over the years in "making something from nothing" by figuring out innovative ways to do things without cost to the museum, such as the great displays, donated artifacts and documents, and the custom-made 1917 Train Wreck display in the courthouse hallway.
In 2010, our focus began to be replacing and improving our aging and deteriorating computer system. The two networked computers we had were used when they were given to us in 2004. Now ancient in computer terms, the computers could barely handle our huge and growing collection of digitized photos and documents. And they were increasingly crashing. The laptop that I used died completely. The two desktop computers' slowness was driving our staff crazy as we tried to keep up with increasing demand.
At the urging of Volunteer Bob Cline, we started seriously trying to figure out what we needed and how to pay for it. We settled, generally, that we would like to have five desktop computers and a laptop, with better networking and backup capabilities. Cost estimates came in at about $10,000. Bob started asking around for financial support, even offering to go door-to-door. Early in 2010, Zappos.com came through with a generous $3,000 donation toward computers, and we received a few personal donations. Then, about mid-year, I talked with some good folks at Best Buy and Geek Squad City in Bullitt County, and they really took the ball and ran with it, helping us resolve technical details, providing the computers free of charge, and helping get software worth over $6,000 donated from Microsoft. We look for the new computer system to be installed very soon, at no or virtually no cost to the museum. That's how I love to do things and how a lot of our museum expenses are covered.
But even with such success, the museum still is not self sustaining financially.
Expenses. The biggest ongoing cost is the Executive Director (me), at $5,400 per year (paid by the museum, not county government), though most people are kind enough to point out that is a pretty good deal for the county, considering I could make $50,000 a year somewhere else if I wanted to. For me though, retirement from my career work has allowed me to do what I love, without very much worry about income. Nevertheless, if really tough times hit for the museum, that cost could be eliminated and the museum could run on a break-even basis, thanks again to not having housing and related costs.
General ongoing annual expenses include $144 for one year of death certificates microfilm; $36 for PO Box; $309.56 license fee for Ancestry.com; $553.58 for insurance; $309.56 for licensing for our web site; $336.63 for office supplies (primarily printer ink and paper); and $70 total membership dues for state historical society memberships.
Income. Looking forward, the biggest problem is real income for the museum. The museum benefits from several small incomes. Interest income for 2010 was $590.16, partly from an interest-bearing checking account, but mostly from interest from remaining CD's from the Publisher's Printing donations. Book sales brought income of $372. Money from copy-machine copies added $186.20. Money from the toll booth (a sign encourages visitors to toss in a coin in our toll booth display, making the light change) brought $115.52. A model of The Old Stone Bank, that encourages donation by visitors, brought $88.95, and general individual donations (not counting many books, artifacts, photos, and other items) totaled $565.89. And, as said before, many of our needs are met by just saying we need some item, and someone steps up and gives it to us, such as a 35mm slide scanner donated by Bob Cline.
So, as you can see, our expenses each year outweigh our income. So far, and for a few years longer, the museum can function as-is by using the various small incomes and by using some of the principle of the remaining Publishers Printing donation.
Of course that will not sustain the museum forever. New partnerships, new supporters, new donations, and new sources of income need to be found.
But I am very proud of how the museum has been able to do so much, for so long, with so very little; and how it is set up to continue on a well esteemed and growing reputation. I am particularly proud of how we have been able to do a lot of things, year after year, without incurring cost for the museum.
All of the museum's financial records are on file at the museum and available for viewing in detail. Anyone is welcome to see them simply by arranging a time with me to get them out for you.
Goals for 2011:
An ongoing goal is to improve our financial sustainability. As reported earlier, things are sustainable for the next few years, but we need to increase efforts at raising donations and other income, so we don't have to use endowment money. We would like to develop more income-producing books and even gift items, and increase the sales of the books we already have.
An immediate goal for 2011 is to provide training for our Volunteers on the new computers and software. We will have Windows7 operating system and full MicrosoftOffice7 Pro and that is quite a leap from our current very limited software. A lot of potential, but we will all need to get familiar with the new stuff. An exciting but challenging road for us over the next few months.
We will begin a project of scanning a gift of over 2500 35mm photos slides to computer.
Repair work is critically needed on The Old Stone Jail behind the courthouse. The 30-year-old roof is leaking badly and causing damage to the stone in freezing weather. We can not open the jail for touring in winter because there is often one or two inches of ice on the floor. The stone itself badly needs tuck-pointing (remortering between the stones). New roofing is estimated to cost from $2-5,000 and tuck-pointing will cost $5,000. This being owned by county government, I hope to get them to budget the repairs for their 2011/2012 budget cycle.
There is the ever growing problem of ever growing. Our success, heavy visitation, and growth of historical collections has us bursting at the seams. Limited space sometimes forces us to not accept some large item donations, and makes us be selective about what we do accept. We constantly and creatively work at making more efficient use of the space we have, but it is getting tougher every year. I have a few dreams on how to handle this in the future, but right now, we just do what we can. One potential area of display growth that I would love to use is the large hallways of the courthouse; I'd love to see some nice-looking display cases appropriately designed and placed in the hallways to dramatically showcase our county. A point of good news here is that the museum seems now to have the widespread reputation that we are here to stay and thus a reliable and trustworthy place to donate historical artifacts.
And I plan to continue with a personal interest of mine. As you probably know, Bullitt County history includes making salt, in Pioneer times, from the salty water that bubbles up in places around the county. I have long encouraged the idea to reinvent that still-existing salt source as an inexpensive, perhaps even profitable, source for salt brine for our county to put on our icy roads in winter. I recently was able to get an analysis of our local salt water sources and hope to report on that in a future newsletter.
And of course, I want us to continue our award-winning work of historical and genealogical documentation and research, and most importantly our friendly support of museum visitors and visitors to Bullitt County.
I want us to continue to be that "best front door of any courthouse in the state".
Thank you for being a Friend of the Bullitt County History Museum.
Bullitt County History Museum
Museum Phone: 502-921-0161
E-Mail address: David.Strange@BullittCountyHistory.org