Wheaton history museum hopes not to become history itself

For months, representatives of Wheaton's Center for History have been trying to change the future.

But with Wheaton City Council members expected to vote today to approve a 2009-10 budget that eliminates the center's $225,000 annual subsidy, center officials are preparing for the loss of that revenue. No matter what happens, they say, the museum remains committed to its goal of preserving and promoting local history.

"We will fight tooth and nail to give the community the services they deserve," said Stuart Stone, chairman of the Center for History's board of directors. "We will do our best to keep this organization intact and moving forward."

Still, the loss of city funding will be a significant blow.

Alberta Adamson, the center's president and CEO, said the $225,000 last year represented about a third of the center's total budget.

While the center slashed expenses when it was announced months ago that the subsidy would be eliminated, Adamson said additional cuts would be "a real detriment." She said services would have to be reduced though public demand for those offerings remains high.

In addition to seeing more than 15,000 visitors a year at its two locations, the center is a resource for researchers and local historians, officials said. During the ongoing celebration of Wheaton's 150th anniversary, for example, the center has done more than 400 hours worth of work.

"Our agreement says we're supposed to preserve Wheaton's history and create awareness of it," Adamson said. "That's exactly what we do."

Still, city leaders insist there's simply not enough money in Wheaton's budget to help fund the center. In addition to raising the sales tax, Wheaton already has trimmed $3 million in expenses, including cutting 17 full-time jobs. Such moves allow the city to balance its $34.9 million general fund, which pays for salaries and operating expenses, for the 2009-10 budget year.

"It comes down to this: Do we fund police and fire? Or do we fund the history center?" Councilman Tom Mouhelis said.

Councilman Phil Suess said the city already as given the center roughly $2.8 million in the last 15 years.

He said the center is a private entity that needs to stand on its own financially.

"They have been given notice that our ability to fund them in the future would be limited and reduced," Suess said. "And they have never put forward a plan to make themselves financially viable."

Adamson said part of the reason there hasn't been more fundraising is because the center's full-time staff has been reduced from seven to two employees.

"When you have two people and you're presenting education programs and serving an annual audience of 15,000, there's not a whole lot of time," she said.

Meanwhile, the fundraising the center has done has been hampered by the economic downturn and misconceptions about what the loss of city funding means for the museum.

"We've had people call us and say, 'Well, you're not going to be in business next year,'" Adamson said. "That's not what our board wants or says."

Indeed, Stone says the center's volunteers will do "everything possible" to find new sources of revenue and reduce expenses.

"Things are real tough right now," he said. "But we're looking at different events to raise money. We have done everything we possibly can to streamline our facility."

Liz Corry, one of the few Wheaton council members who supported giving the center at least some funding, says she's disappointed a compromise plan was never reached.

"I just don't think that's fair for all the effort that the group puts in," Corry said. "The Center for History provides a valuable resource for the community."

Stone said he hopes Wheaton residents agree with Corry that the center benefits everyone in town and should be supported.

"We know everybody is looking for donations now," he said. "We recognize the fact that it's difficult times. But we need the community's support."

For information about the Center for History, visit

Summer Luby, left, of Bartlett and Sarah Halles of Wayne listen to Melissa Tanouye as she talks to Girls Scouts during a recent "Dig the Dino" program at the Center for History in Wheaton. Paul Michna | Staff Photographer

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