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Solving financial shortages

Does your museum need to raise funds? Let me clue you in to how the Pioneer Museum/Fall River County Historical Society in Hot Springs, S.D., solved the problem when our outgo exceeded income. In 2005, the museum was running solidly in the red due to over spending, mostly on advertising. That was the year there was a complete change of board members when the president and his wife moved away to live nearer family. It was also the year I got onto the board. Our dedicated board members set out to adjust the finances, even to the point of unscrewing every other light bulb to save electricity. We were all brainstorming.

That fall I was asked to speak about the Civilian Conservation Corps at the monthly Custer County Historical Society meeting. I accepted and proceeded to round up three CCC men from the area to do the talking. On the way home I thought it would be terrific if our historical society could do the same type of thing, and on second thought I told myself that once a month comes around awfully fast. My brain was working on the idea when it dawned on me that an annual history conference might just work.

You know how it often goes when a board member makes a suggestion — “That’s a good idea, go for it, we’re behind you, do the work, we hope we don’t go further into the hole” — and the final agreement: “the board gives our consent, if you do it all.” Not knowing any better I agreed. Since I was in charge, the date was set at my convenience — during January, before we started calving.



We had to reserve a facility and arrange for a meal. Fortunately, for the first conference the conference center did both for us and we were especially grateful. That first year I was terrified we wouldn’t be successful so each board member had to pay the same registration fee as everyone else — that would pay for the facility and meal; that policy is still followed. I wrote two grant applications to help out. In the end, we learned that local people are hungry for history. We made enough money that year to get us back in the black with our finances. I breathed a sigh of relief and the board was pleased. We had a winner that we continued.

Over the years we’ve heard from a college student who was a U.S. Cavalry bugler re-enactor and is now a U.S. Marshall; several presenters who were in their 90s and could give the history from first-hand experience; the subject of the oldest presentation was on The Mammoth Site, a scientific discovery center, laboratory and library in Hot Springs, and the most recent subject was the talk on the Miss South Dakota Pageant of which Hot Springs held the franchise and contest from 1947 until 2018 — 72 years.



This will be the 16th year for the conference. In all of those years there was only one January where the weather got bitter cold and affected our attendance. Since then, we sold our cows and I went off that board after 11 years. I will always be grateful for the individuals from three states have attended this conference year after year to learn and to support the museum.


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