Friends of Mayowood disbands after 37 'great years'
With the number of members declining and those involved getting advanced in years, "It was just time."
Joanne Sheldon was one of the founding members of the Friends of Mayowood in 1981 and now that the organization is disbanding, she was asked if it’s a bittersweet time.
"Yes and no," Sheldon said. "We had 37 great years. We raised a lot of money. It was a great opportunity."
But with the number of members declining and those involved getting advanced in years, Sheldon, 85, said, "It was just time."
"We started out with 500 members, and this year we couldn’t find people to join our board," said Kay Caskey, a long time member and former president of the organization. Membership had dropped to about 40 or 50 in 2018, she said.
The founders of the group, Sheldon said, didn’t work outside their own homes, and had the time and wherewithal to devote to the Mayowood project.
"It’s a different time now," she said.
Sheldon, along with Beebe Burke, Phyl Mahler, Jean Monahan, Maren Stocke and Nina Sudor founded the organization as a way to help preserve Mayowood, the former estate of Dr. Charles Mayo. The mansion and grounds had been given to the Olmsted County Historical Society in 1965, and by the 1980s was in desperate need of repair and renovation.
Over the years, Friends of Mayowood raised about $500,000, but could never really make the kind of headway on restoration that the building and grounds needed.
In that regard, their prayers were answered in 2013 when Mayo Clinic purchased Mayowood and over the next three years pumped $3 million into restoring and in some cases rebuilding portions of the historic home.
"I was thrilled when they took over ownership," Sheldon said. "They could do things. There was no way anyone could raise the amount of money that was needed."
While Mayo Clinic owns the building and grounds, the historical society retains ownership of the contents of the home — art works, books, furniture, and so on. That’s where Friends of Mayowood concentrated its efforts in recent years, Sheldon said. Most recently, the organization donated $4,000 for a project inside the home.
Mayo Clinic ownership presented some challenges for the Friends group, Caskey said.
"We didn’t have the access (to the mansion) like we used to," Caskey said. Mayo turns over a certain number of days annually for use by the historical society, a number of which are taken up by the popular Christmas-season tours of the home.
On the other hand, she said, Mayo’s purchase of the home likely saved Mayowood. "The History Center didn’t have the funds to keep it up," Caskey said. "It (Mayowood) was in such bad shape. Something had to be done."
In a statement, Chuck Potter, director of Mayo Clinic Historic Properties, said, "Mayo Clinic appreciates the thousands of hours and funds which the Friends of Mayowood have provided to help in maintaining Mayowood. As the Friends disband, 37 years of events, activities, restoration, fundraising and passion will not be forgotten."
While Friends of Mayowood is officially disbanding, some members will remain active with efforts of the historical society, Sheldon said. And the organization still had funds that can be tapped for future needs regarding the materials in the mansion.
Looking back, the non-stop effort by a group of volunteers to keep alive a historical treasure is something to be proud of, Sheldon said.
"To think that six women started that, it’s really remarkable," she said.