Museum becomes small-group destination
Like most nonprofit organizations in today’s difficult economy, the board of the Old Barn Museum has gotten creative in offering new uses to gain new revenue streams.
This summer, that means Executive Director Judie Christensen has opened the museum and its grounds to a variety of small groups for a number of uses.
“It’s become quite a unique small group destination,” Christensen said, listing everything from small class and family reunions to retreats and even Bible study groups. She said the museum recently was visited by the Lifelong Learning Institute at Waubonsee Community College and received high marks from those in attendance.
“I’ve tried to make this a place where we have options,” she said.
“We charge a modest fee (for groups), and we can get food catered in or groups can bring their own. We do not have a liquor license, so no alcohol is allowed on the premises,” she said.
Along with space to set up tables and chairs inside the museum itself, Christensen has worked to make the outdoor spaces around the grounds attractive and inviting. The front of the building boasts a small waterfall and koi pond along with a picnic table flanked by the bottle wall and what she calls the peace wall.
The peace wall is actually several walls with a quote from Oglala Lakota Sioux medicine man Black Elk lettered on them by local artist and museum board member Quen Carpenter. The quote reads:
“The first peace, which is the most important, is that which comes within the souls of people when they realize their relationship, their oneness with the universe and all its powers, and when they realize that at the center of the universe dwells the Great Spirit and that this center is really everywhere, it is within each of us.”
Behind the building is a small pond, fed by a couple of natural springs. Like every other pond in the area this summer, Christensen said the level is down and it’s not very pretty because it’s stagnant.
There is also a 4-foot fire pit covered with a grate, over which hot dogs could be roasted. There is seating around the fire pit for a campfire-like atmosphere. Picnic tables dot the back yard of the building, with seating for about 40 people.
Christensen is the daughter of museum founder Howard Christensen. He founded the Old Barn Museum in the 1960s when some local school teachers convinced him to open his home on Griswold Springs Road to school groups so the kids could hear his stories as part of their history studies. And in 1969, Howard purchased a run-down homestead where he converted a historic horse barn into the museum, which officially opened in 1972.
Howard entertained as many as 125 grade school students in a day, international groups have visited with interpreters, civic and community groups, as well as family gatherings, enjoyed stories about his personal finds, as well as about local and regional history. The core of the collection is Howard’s personal finds.
Christensen said she started walking through the fields with her dad at about the age of 5. Although as an adult she worked as a college professor, teaching a variety of business research and marketing classes, she never lost her passion for local history.
Through the years, she has worked to make the museum more “visitor friendly.”
“Today, everything is behind glass or seen on a monitor in a lot of museums. Here, visitors of all ages can touch many of the authentic pieces,” Christensen said.
Even so, with schools hit by deep budget cuts, few school groups are taking field trips. Christensen added that many of the teachers who once brought classes to the museum year after year have retired.
“So many of the new teachers are not from the area. Teachers today have so many curricular issues that, if they don’t have a passion for local history, and school administrators don’t encourage local history, they just won’t include it in what they teach.
“It just breaks my heart that this local history is being lost,” she said.
Open from 1 to 4 p.m. on Sundays, May through November, the museum is open every other day by appointment. Although no admission is charged for the museum, Christensen said donations are accepted, gratefully.
Along with the availability for small groups, Christensen said she plans to host an appraisal event in September. The tentative date is Sept. 29, and she said more details will be announced as plans are made.
“We did an appraisal event last year, and it went well. We provided written documentation to everyone, mostly for insurance purposes.”
The Old Barn Museum
• Where: 7127B Oakbrook Road, Newark
• Open: 1 to 4 p.m. Sundays, May through November; other times by appointment
• Contact: www.theoldbarnmuseum.org or 630-553-5997
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