Barrington, history museum officials meet in effort to settle differences

Leaders of the nonprofit Barrington History Museum and village met this week in an effort to settle differences over public access to collections and other issues.

Among those who participated in Monday's private session were Barrington Village President Karen Darch and museum Chairman Dean Maiben.

The meeting occurred about two months after Darch sent a certified letter to the museum raising the prospect of an investigation by "appropriate governmental agencies" into whether it is complying with laws for nonprofit organizations.

In a statement, Darch said the meeting was productive and included a visit to the museum's collections and document rooms. She requested the meeting in her letter to the museum.

"We are hopeful that ongoing dialogue between the village, community members and the history museum can continue in order to ensure that Barrington's historical artifacts are always available for all to enjoy and access," Darch said.

Maiben said the museum has had "an outstanding response from our membership" since the dispute began in the spring.

"You've got to keep in mind, they're all volunteers," Maiben said of those running the museum.

The museum on Main Street features historic photographs, Jewel Tea Co. memorabilia, old newspapers, themed exhibits such as vintage wedding dresses and documents from families who settled the Barrington area. There are four buildings on the site, including the Wichman Blacksmith Shop donated by the village and moved there in 1999.

Museum visitors already come for an extensive Jewel Tea collection that includes vintage Autumn Leaf china the company sold door to door back in the day. Barrington was Jewel's headquarters from 1930 to 1984

Concerns about the museum publicly surfaced in April when some current and former Barrington residents wrote letters to village officials saying they were denied access to items they donated.

Peer Lykke, who chaired the 2015 Barrington Sesquicentennial Committee's history work group, raised questions about the museum's finances and other matters at an April village board meeting.

At the museum's annual meeting last week, Lykke and Jack Schaefer, a member of the Barrington Cultural Commission, addressed what they say is a need for new leaders to boost fundraising and other areas of the organization. Schaefer and Lykke are directors for the philanthropic nonprofit Barrington Area Development Council.

"Many of the collections have been donated by residents in the community," Schaefer said. "And we're concerned about what their preservation state is. And we'd like an opportunity to be more involved in the Barrington History Museum so we can work toward the preservation and maintenance of the collections."

History museum President Michael Harkins and Maiben say the facility isn't denying access to anyone and that items and documents are cared for properly. The museum is fulfilling its educational mission, in part by providing trunks of historic items for sixth-grade classes in Barrington Area Unit District 220, they say.

Volunteer docent Joe Voss has said he operates tours and tries to have the museum open from 1 to 4 p.m. Saturdays.

Maiben speculated the criticism stems from the village's desiring the museum's property to expand operations of Barrington's White House, which is across the street. Barrington's director of communications, marketing and events, Patty Dowd Schmitz, said that is "unequivocally false."

Schaefer made an unsuccessful effort to nominate Lykke and Jim Peterson, another development council director, for museum board seats that were voted on at the annual meeting.

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  At left, Peer Lykke, who chaired the 2015 Barrington Sesquicentennial Committee's history work group, raises questions at last week's annual meeting of the village's history museum. Next to Lykke is Jack Schaefer, a member of the Barrington Cultural Commission who also has raised concerns about the museum's operations. Bob Susnjara/
  This is part of the Barrington History Museum campus on Main Street in the village's downtown. Bob Susnjara/
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