HIS­TOR­I­CAL GROUPS EM­BRACE TECH­NOL­OGY, TRENDS TO KEEP GO­ING

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When Steve McLough­lin’s time as pres­i­dent of the White­hall His­tor­i­cal So­ci­ety ran out, Bill Flood was there to take over. When Flood’s term ended, Leo Knoblauch stepped into the role.

It’s a stan­dard process of suc­ces­sion known well by lo­cal his­tor­i­cal so­ci­eties. But some say “pass­ing the torch,” as Flood called it, is get­ting harder, and they worry about its im­pli­ca­tions.

“A lot of times they’re the only ones pre­serv­ing the his­tory of a com­mu­nity,” said Todd McCormick, pres­i­dent of the Ohio Lo­cal His­tory Al­liance’s board of trustees. “Lo­cal his­tory is also Ohio his­tory and Amer­i­can his­tory. If it goes away, some­times it can’t come back.”

It’s not that his­tor­i­cal so­ci­eties have ever had it easy — se­cur­ing fund­ing and vol­un­teers have al­ways been chal­lenges at some level, McCormick said. But many or­ga­ni­za­tions are

strug­gling to re­cruit new, younger mem­bers, and some long­time mem­bers are ag­ing and no longer able to con­trib­ute like they once did.

Be­cause each or­ga­ni­za­tion’s char­ac­ter­is­tics are as dis­tinct as the his­to­ries of their com­mu­ni­ties, the specifics of their chal­lenges vary. Some groups have hun­dreds of pay­ing mem­bers. Oth­ers have en­dow­ments that sup­ple­ment op­er­at­ing costs or re­ceive more grants or fund­ing from their city gov­ern­ment than some.

Many are all-vol­un­teer. Oth­ers, such as the Wor­thing­ton His­tor­i­cal So­ci­ety, have a paid direc­tor. And a hand­ful have mul­ti­ple his­toric build­ings cre­at­ing their own kind of vil­lage, as the South­west Franklin County His­tor­i­cal So­ci­ety and Hil­liard His­tor­i­cal So­ci­ety do.

But many of the com­pli­ca­tions con­fronting the dif­fer­ent or­ga­ni­za­tions stem from the same place: a chang­ing life­style.

“Whereas peo­ple maybe want to at­tend lec­tures to learn about their neigh­bor­hood, his­tor­i­cal so­ci­eties are com­pet­ing with all sorts of en­ter­tain­ment and res­tau­rants and sport­ing events,” said Kate LaLonde, direc­tor of the Wor­thing­ton His­tor­i­cal So­ci­ety. “We have to re­think, how do peo­ple want to use their time now?”

Or­ga­ni­za­tions are do­ing just that. The Wor­thing­ton His­tor­i­cal So­ci­ety, for ex­am­ple, has put on ghost tours around Hal­loween for the last few years. De­spite rain, about 100 peo­ple at­tended this year, LaLonde said.

The White­hall His­tor­i­cal So­ci­ety has or­ga­nized an­tique shows with food trucks in the park­ing lot of its mu­seum, which is a Lus­tron pre­fab­ri­cated, enam­eled steel house from

the 1950s — a nod to the city’s post-World War II boom.

The hope is that events that ap­peal to a broader au­di­ence over time will in­spire at­ten­dees to re­main in­volved with the his­tor­i­cal so­ci­ety, LaLonde said.

Bar­bara Cash, pres­i­dent of the Hil­liard His­tor­i­cal So­ci­ety, said her group has started look­ing for vol­un­teers in new ways, such as part­ner­ing with a high school his­tory club to help archive items that the group has col­lected in re­cent years but has strug­gled to cat­a­log.

The Dublin His­tor­i­cal So­ci­ety hopes to hire an in­tern from Ohio State next year to help re­search ways to mod­ern­ize its mu­seum for a more hands-on, in­ter­ac­tive ex­pe­ri­ence, so­ci­ety Pres­i­dent Tom Holton said.

The dig­i­tal age has brought both bar­ri­ers and op­por­tu­ni­ties. While new tech­nol­ogy cre­ates the pos­si­bil­ity for a more en­gag­ing ex­pe­ri­ence — the kind of ex­pe­ri­ence that doesn’t just draw peo­ple in, but makes them want to get in­volved with the or­ga­ni­za­tion — it can be costly to in­sti­tute those changes, Holton said.

Cer­tain soft­ware also has made cat­a­loging records and ar­ti­facts eas­ier, but some of the small­est groups might not be able to af­ford it, said McCormick of the Ohio Lo­cal His­tory Al­liance.

At the same time, on­line fundrais­ing sites such as Kick­starter and GoFundMe have opened doors at a time when many or­ga­ni­za­tions say their his­toric struc­tures are badly in need of re­pairs. In Hil­liard, for ex­am­ple, the his­tor­i­cal so­ci­ety es­ti­mates it needs to make $27,000

worth of re­pairs for a new roof on its late 19th­cen­tury, one-room school and new bath­rooms in the mu­seum.

Holton said he re­mains com­mit­ted to help­ing the his­tor­i­cal so­ci­ety nav­i­gate the chang­ing times.

“I can’t con­nect a straight line be­tween where we are and where we need to be, but we know we need to be some­where else,” he said. “I’m de­ter­mined to do what I can to make sure peo­ple aren’t for­got­ten.”

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