The grant of $12,089 will be used to create a new orientation exhibit within the museums’ visitor center located on Memorial Drive. The exhibit will provide background to Hillsboro’s two museums, the Peter Paul Loewen House and the William F. Schaeffler House, before visitors begin a guided tour of the buildings.
The new exhibit should be open to the public by early fall, according to Stan R. Harder, director of museums.
“This is a really exciting opportunity,” Harder said. “I think we have a wonderful project team and I look forward to working with them. The resulting exhibit will be something the community will take great pride in.”
He said the exhibit should enrich visitors’ experience at the museums and stimulate a deeper respect for the German and immigrant past of Hillsboro, as well as increase visitation, expand interpretation and enhance educational opportunities within and around Marion County.
As initially envisioned, the exhibit will include a variety of primary resources: letters, photographs, newspaper articles and illustrations and other items not currently on display in the museums themselves.
Labeled and illustrated panels will tell the story, starting with a brief introduction to the origins of Mennonites in Europe during the early 1500s, through the arrival of immigrants to Kansas and the founding of Hillsboro in the late 1800s, to the development of the Schaeffler family business in Hillsboro through the 1920s.
“This is not not a chronological history of the area as such,” Harder said. “It is an orientation to the two museums that we have. But as such, it is a chronological story of the area.”
The exhibit will stretch for about 24 feet along the north wall of the visitor center, then 20 feet along the east wall.
“The entire exhibit will rest on the findings of the exhibit team,” Harder said. “While I’m predicting what I think it will look like, it’s going to be predicated on the story line as written by the team together.”
Serving as the lead consultants on the exhibit team are Jay M. Price, director of public history at Wichita State University, and Chuck Regier, curator of exhibits at Bethel College’s Kaufman Museum. Both men will be compensated for their contributions with a portion of the grant funds.
Participating on the project as volunteers will be several local experts: Raymond F. Wiebe, historian laureate of Hillsboro; Aleen Ratzlaff, associate professor of communications at Tabor College; Christy Wulf, director of the Hillsboro Convention & Visitors Bureau, and Grant Overstake, director of Tabor College Communications.
Harder will be the project director and Verden A. Harms, museums accountant, will be the bookkeeper.
Harder expects the storyline for the exhibit will be written in February with on-site construction to begin in June.
The early-fall completion target will be in time to celebrate a unique alignment of several historical milestones.
“We’ll have a ribbon-cutting as part of our 50th anniversary celebration (of the Loewen House’s relocation at its present site), and the exhibit will be on view next year—which will be a very significant year for Hillsboro in that it’s the 125th anniversary for Hillsboro and the centennial celebration for the Schaeffler House,” Harder said.
Harder said Hillsboro Museums received the KHC grant in the grant’s final year of existence, which makes the award all the more gratifying.
“We feel very grateful and very honored that we’ve gotten one of the last ones of these that will ever be made,” he said.
Harder said he has been anticipating this kind of exhibit development ever since he accepted his current role with the museums in 2003.
“It’s been in my head since I got here,” he said.