Sanders: History of the history conference
Custer County, S.D., has an active historical society and during the school year they hold monthly history programs. After my book, “The Civilian Conservation Corps In and Around the Black Hills” was out, they asked me to come and present at a meeting. As long as there are CCC men around, I am more prone to gather some of them up, introduce them and let the audience visit with them. First-hand stories from the men who did the work is the best history possible. That is what I did.
After that gathering I thought, “We should do that for the Pioneer Museum in Hot Springs, S.D. But once a month comes around pretty quickly,” and I knew who would be in charge if I suggested it. I thought about it for a few days and at the next meeting of our Fall River County’s Historical Society board, of which I was a member, I brought it up — with a twist. I proposed we hold an annual history conference, a one-day affair, instead of a monthly activity.
Only one of the other board members had been to a history conference and the others really had no idea of what it would consist. One guy thought we should bring in the high school swing choir for entertainment, but it was explained that would not fit the model.
Our historical society operates the Pioneer Museum in Hot Springs. It was running in the red and everything we could possibly think of had been done to cut to the bare bones. The men even went so far as to remove every other light bulb to conserve the light bill. The board was so hesitant about hosting a conference they figuratively patted me on the arm and said if you want to do all the work, go ahead and have it. But don’t spend any money.
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Other history conferences around the state are in fall and spring so we decided to schedule it in mid-January. I also knew I had to have the conference behind me before our calving started at the end of January. A facility has to be rented because the museum does not have heat. I calculated that with board members paying the same fee as everyone else we would have enough money to cover the rental, if a blizzard ruined the day.
The first year we had 10 presenters, four of whom were in their 90s. Now all but one, Caroline Curl, are gone. She is hale and hearty and will be 104 in March, and continues to live on her own. At the conference we had a good deal of fun, learned many things and also made money, enough to put us into the black. We were thrilled and the conference is still the primary fundraiser for the Pioneer Museum.
Now we are coming up on our 13th annual Focus on Fall River County History Conference, set for Jan. 20 at the Mueller Center in Hot Springs (where they also accept registrations). The museum hopes you will attend.❖
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