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AUSTIN EDITION Society seeks financial freedom

Historical Society staff members plan for change

By Roxana Orellana

rorellana@postbulletin.com

The Mower County Historical Society could return to its roots as a financially independent organization as the county considers eliminating or reducing its funding.

In the meantime, society staff members remain positive and plan to use the next three to four years to be ready for the potential change.

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"I am excited. I really am excited," historical society director Jacky Pierskalla said. "I think if every year we increase our annual campaign and we increase our membership, we will be just fine."

Plans to offset the lost funding will include a bigger emphasis on the annual membership drive and an increase in foot traffic year-round. Currently, the society has about 408 members, including about 20 businesses.

The annual campaign, renamed "Keep the Door Open," will allow businesses to be categorized in one of three sponsorship levels, depending on the dollar amount contributed, or to pay $50 to be listed in the newsletter.

"I am constantly amazed with the generosity of members and people around the community," Pierskalla said.

Other projects this year include an Easter parade with activities for the family.

In June, the society will join Mower County Fair members for a two-day flea market at the fairgrounds. The event will be free for the public.

To get more foot traffic, Pierskalla said she hopes to make more use of the society's four heated buildings during the winter for tours or school events. A new exhibit added this year is the firehouse, which displays fire department equipment.

Other plans would include coordinating tours with the Spam Museum and the Hormel Home. Pierskalla also would like to have an intern work during the summer.

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Talk about how the society is funded began in the wake of state cuts in local government aid. Funding for the historical society this year will remain the same as 2004, at $33,360. The society operates with a total budget of about $64,000.

"It's hard to say whether we can continue or downsize it over the next five years. It's ultimately up to the board," Craig Oscarson, county coordinator, said. "It also depends on the appetite of the public for taxes."

While the society's operations could lose county funding, the board would continue to pay for major necessary repairs, Oscarson said.

"It's a trickle-down effect," Pierskalla said. "I can understand where the county board is coming from, and hopefully, in three to five years we'll be up and running."

The society began in 1949 with a group of "historically interested" citizens. According to Mower County Board minutes, the board began to allocate $50 per month to the society in 1955. The amount later increased to $75 in the mid 1960s, with other donations for projects and exhibits.

Pierskalla said another one of her goals is to get the society buildings open four to five days a week, including Saturday. Hours were reduced to three days a week about two to three years ago because of budget constraints.

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