June 26, 2016

Partly sunny

Historical society is the keeper of our collective family story

Who is the keeper of your family’s stories? Who looks after Grandpa’s letters home from the war and the heirloom quilt? Who holds on to all the old photographs — and more importantly — can tell you the stories of the people in them?

As a community, the keeper of our collective family story is the Medina County Historical Society. Its artifacts and archives tell the story of this place you and I call home — from the prehistoric peoples who lived here before us, to settlers who made the first roads and villages from the wilderness, to the Civil War, to the world wars and Great Depression of the 20th century, right up to where we are today.

The postponement of the Medina County Courthouse expansion and layoffs at the sheriff’s department have commanded most of the headlines regarding county budget cuts. However, there are other casualties, too.

In the late 1940s, Medina County government began a tradition of funding the county historical society. This year, that stipend — which amounted to $20,000 — was eliminated from the county’s budget. Commissioner Stephen D. Hambley redirected his $750 cell phone allowance to the historical society. A commendable action, but it still adds up to a 96 percent cut in funding. In terms of percentage, only one other line item took a harder hit.

The funding represented 73 percent of the society’s $27,200 annual budget. The rest comes from member dues and donations. The historical society must now find a way to pay for utilities at the John Smart House museum, security, maintenance, insurance, programming, acquisitions and curator salary. It’s now working hard to raise money to help fill the gap, said society President Brian Feron.

The hours of the museum will be scaled back, making it more difficult to schedule tours for school groups, Scout troops and the public. There will be less time for curator Tom Hilberg to assist researchers with information requests and to catalog the donations of historical items that continually flow through the museum door.

In essence, it means fewer occasions for all of us — from school children to genealogists — to connect with our heritage and learn the stories of who we are. And what stories there are to tell.

Joann King — a local historian, author and long-serving board member — said the historical society’s collection rivals that of any other museum, including the Ohio Historical Society. That’s because the society was established relatively early — in 1922 — and has been a good steward of the resources and artifacts placed in its hands, she said.

Quilts from its collection have been included in books and major exhibitions. The museum has a noteworthy collection of prehistoric arrowheads, sports memorabilia and objects from the former Chippewa Lake Amusement Park. The display of items owned by the Seville “giants” — Martin Van Buren Bates and Anna Swan Bates — is always a giant attraction.

“It shows they weren’t imaginary or made up by P.T. Barnum,” Feron said. “They were real people.”

That’s the gift museums and historical societies give us — the knowledge that those who came before us were real people. It’s one thing to read about an ice box or an Edison phonograph in a textbook. It’s when a child sees one for herself that a connection is made and history becomes visible and alive.

During the Civil War, Mallet Creek’s Jane Logan said goodbye to her three brothers — Andrew, Robert and Thomas — as they left home to fight for the Union cause. Jane vowed she would never again wear the dress she wore that day until all three brothers returned safely home.

They did, she did, and the material from the dress that represented her love and her promise was later sewn into a family quilt. It was passed down through the Logan family and now to us. Today, the quilt is on display at the John Smart House.

It’s more than one family’s story. It’s our story. And who is going to preserve it if not the Medina County Historical Society? If not you and me?

One of the truths in life is this: Even when you do not know where to go next, when you are uncertain what the future may hold, you can never truly be lost if you remember where you came from. There is comfort, hope and direction in retracing our steps.

Local history teaches that we have been through wars, economic freefalls and other hard times before, and that we get through them by joining hands and working together. Part of the reason we know this is because almost 90 years ago, our predecessors had the foresight to form a county historical society and the commitment to keep it running through thick and thin.

The Medina County Historical Society needs the community to pull together on its behalf, so it can continue to tell that story. Our story.

To learn how you can help support the society by volunteering, becoming a member or making a donation, visit www.medinahistorical.com or call the John Smart House at 330-722-1341.

Gladden may be contacted at gladden@ohio.net or 330-721-4052.