Mundelein historical group wants village's help
Months after the death of its longtime leader, a Mundelein-based historical group has asked the village board to find volunteers willing to guide the organization and protect its artifacts.
Dottie Watson, who died in September at 85, was the president of the Historical Society of the Fort Hill Country and curator of the local Fort Hill Heritage Museum, which houses a diverse collection of regional memorabilia.
The society's remaining members want the village to form a historical commission that would oversee museum operations and organize community events, as the group has done in the past.
"There's a lot that could be done with some strong leadership and some foresight," historical society treasurer John Maguire told the village board last week.
The historical society was founded in 1956. Its primary responsibility has been the museum, which is in Lions Field, 601 E. Noel Drive.
Items in the collection include a model of a 1900s-era schoolhouse, pioneer tools, antique firefighting equipment and old maps of Lake County.
The museum building is a former train depot owned by the Mundelein Park District, and the land on which it sits is park district property.
Its contents are owned by the historical society, but under a long-standing agreement with the park district, if the group folds, the artifacts would be turned over to the district for continued display or eventual donation to another museum or historical group.
"We could not sell them," park district Executive Director Margaret Resnick said.
For decades, Dottie Watson was at the museum every Saturday to greet visitors and talk about the region's past, Resnick recalled.
She also was a fixture at the museum's annual Independence Day gathering, where she could be seen each year in an eye-catching red, white and blue dress.
"Dottie's passing is a huge loss to the Historical Society of the Fort Hill County and the operation of our museum," Resnick said.
The nonprofit historical group has some savings and some remaining members, but not enough of either to sustain an organization, Maguire said.
Creating a leadership commission would maintain the Watsons' legacy and ensure the long-term preservation of the museum's collection, Maguire and other society members said in a memo to the village board.
Proponents hope new leaders also would breathe new energy into the museum, which hasn't rotated exhibits for years or introduced the types of interactive technology that have become standard at popular museums.
"If you want people to return, you need to have something new for them to see," Resnick said.
Village Trustee Robin Meier is optimistic volunteers will step forward. She said she's met residents who are "historically minded" and likely would participate.
"We do have the people out there who would relish this opportunity," Meier said.
Trustee Ray Semple is hopeful, too. But if the group struggles to find leaders, village and park district officials "will have some tough decisions to make" about the museum, he said.
"We've got to give it a shot," Semple said.
Creating a historical commission will require a vote on a formal village ordinance. After last week's discussion, trustees instructed administrators to prepare such an ordinance for their next meeting on Dec. 10.
Once the ordinance is enacted, the board would seek applicants for the commission. It could name members in spring 2019.