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By Dana Martin.
Ruralite, July 1995
Last fall, six members of the Sherman County Historical Society were in Omaha, Nebraska, to hear this exciting announcement. They were presented the prestigious Albert B. Corey Award, given by the American Association for State and Local History. The Corey Award is the equivalent of an Oscar for small museums, according to Museum Coordinator Sherry Kaseberg.
"This award is held in extremely high esteem and is given once a year, and occasionally not at all, to only one outstanding organization," she says. The award is intended to recognize a small historical organization that best displays the qualities of vigor, scholarship and imagination in its work.
For Sherry and the other 100 volunteers of the Sherman County Historical Museum, the award recognizes just what a community can accomplish when it works together toward a common goal. The initial efforts date back to 1945 when the Sherman County Historical Society was incorporated. Its first major development occurred in 1982, when the American Legion Post offered its community building in Moro to the Society for use as a museum.
"It was like being struck by lightning---the thought of us running a museum," remembers Sherry. "We accepted the building in the fall of 1982, but I remember the discussions pretty vividly. We had some reservations about whether or not we knew enough about running a museum. I thought we could figure it out."
The Society's five trustees moved ahead with the plan. They visited neighboring museums to get ideas, and volunteers and a carpenter started making exhibit cases. Then, in June 1983, they opened the museum for one day to accept objects for display. "It was an awesome day," Sherry recalls. "We had an enormous response, with people bringing everything from old telephones and baby clothes to wagons and a 1916 buggy. We had a high percentage of loans at first, because we had no credibility and people weren't ready to completely let go. They didn't know what it would mean to their families to have objects here."
As objects were taken in, each one had to be numbered and recorded, then placed in the museum. After recruiting some volunteer hosts, the Sherman County Historical Museum opened its doors to the public, three afternoons a week, beginning in July 1983.
Today, with a well-trained volunteer host team of 88, the museum opens daily from 10 to 5, May through October. With other volunteers helping in the areas of acquisitions, collections, exhibits, and the museum store, Sherry is proud of the community support. "We have just under 1,900 people in our county, so our level of voluntarism is extremely high."
As Sherry and volunteer, Myrna Melzer, look back over the years, they are amazed at what they have learned and how they have progressed. Exhibit labels, originally typed on folded 3 X 5 index cards, have been replaced by professional-looking, computerized labels, and the original display cases have been raised to maximize their effectiveness.
"Everything was pretty basic at first, but we didn't make a lot of mistakes, which is really amazing," says Sherry. She feels 1984 was the pivotal year in the overall direction for the museum. "We requested the Oregon Museums Association evaluation team of three professionals for a two-day assessment, which resulted in a significant prioritized list of recommendations."
Volunteers learned about preservation of their exhibits and volunteer ethics. They developed job descriptions and learned about fundraising, collections management, governance, expansion, education and an entire new vocabulary. In 1986, a Society policy and mission statement were adopted and volunteers started attending workshops and meetings, adding to their already growing knowledge. The Museum Store was opened, featuring juried craft items from local artists.
Each succeeding year marked important milestones for the Sherman County Historical Society. Friends of the Museum was formed for financial support and a new wing for the museum was added. Several grants were requested and received, making new exhibits, activities and brochures possible.
Today, more than 3,000 visitors a year find their way to the prize-winning Sherman County Historical Museum, where more than 12,000 artifacts tell the story of the settlement and growth of Sherman County.
Rural Living exhibits are set up in period rooms, ranging from an early-1900 one-room school to a homey country kitchen. There is a dentist's office, complete with tools of the trade, as well as an elegant formal parlor complete with a pump organ. A military collection dating from the Civil War through the Vietnam War honors Sherman County patriots who served their country.
In an exhibit called "Oregon Trails, Rails and Roads in Sherman County," visitors trace the history of the native Tenino Indians and early explorers, the pioneers and settlers who made Sherman County their home. Research and accuracy is of great importance.
The Corey Award acknowledges the success of the
Sherman County Historical Society, but by no means signifies the slowing
down of enthusiasm. Volunteers are always thinking of ways to improve and
expand their museum. "I now accept the fact that the work here will never
be finished --- it will always be a work in progress. It has been comforting
to finally realize this," Sherry says. Looking back, she is most proud
of how the community has grown and cooperated through the growth and development
of the museum. "I think my biggest high comes from watching people bloom
and seeing horizons expanded. This has really brought people in the county