November 27, 2014

Gardner Historical Museum heads over the rainbow thanks to donors

Bryan Biggs, a representative of Metcalf Bank, Mary Elizabeth Davidson Cohen, Shirley Brown-VanArsdale and Jim  Lehman pose after the check that paid off the Gardner Historical Museum’s mortgage is presented. Submitted photo

Bryan Biggs, a representative of Metcalf Bank, Mary Elizabeth Davidson Cohen, Shirley Brown-VanArsdale and Jim Lehman pose after the check that paid off the Gardner Historical Museum’s mortgage is presented. Submitted photo

Debbie Hickman
Special to The Gardner News
Even when it looked as if the great Wizard himself would not be able to immediately grant their request, they were not deterred.  In true Kansas style, with just three determined clicks of their heels, the Gardner Historical Museum board, staff and members set off on what would become a 12-year journey to raise the money needed to pay off the museum property mortgage.
In December of 2013, the Barton P. and Mary D. Cohen Charitable Trust contributed the $70,000 that sent the museum over the rainbow …
It was in 2002, after having to research historic pictures of her Gardner business at a Paola museum, that Shirley Brown-VanArsdale, Nancee Rankin, Karen Angell, Peggy Cramer, Mark Burdolski, Leone Knabe, Linda Rothwell and Bettie Turner began to act on the vision of establishing a historical museum in Gardner. The museum would have a goal to preserve the rich Gardner history and increase awareness of the historical significance of the Gardner area and its people.
According to Brown-VanArsdale, the perfect property came on the market and a few members of the committee pursued the purchase.  Metcalf Bank financed the purchase of 204 West Main Street and the museum was born.  “We took a risk in buying the property,” Brown-VanArsdale explained. “A risk that has paid off big for Gardner.”
The museum was now tasked with securing funds for property maintenance and the mortgage payment.  Local businesses and the City supported the vision with dollars that would allow for initial needed repairs.  The opening of the Gardner Historical Museum was celebrated in 2003 with an official ribbon cutting ceremony.
When the Gardner Historical Museum petitioned to be acknowledged as a new museum and applied for a financial grant from Johnson County Heritage Trust Fund, the expert sent to evaluate the organization did not recommend approval. It was review board member Barton P. Cohen who, after listening to the presentation describing the museum’s accomplishments to date and their plea for assistance to continue their mission, expressed his support for the Gardner Historical Museum and his belief they would accomplish their goals with the help of the fund.
The Stake Your Claim on the Trail fundraiser kicked off in 2005.  This program was designed to help celebrate ancestry, family legacies or honor a special person or group by “purchasing” a portion of the museum. Available for “purchase” were individual rooms, doors, windows, porches and even closets.
Plaques have been placed throughout the museum building with all of the names of those who donated to this special effort. A follow up fundraising campaign, The Next Step, added each step of the inside staircase, the chicken house and the possibility of future memorial gardens to the list of items “for sale.”
It was in December of 2013 that Dr. Mary Elizabeth Davidson Cohen presented a check for $70,000 from the Barton P. and Mary D. Charitable Trust to the Gardner Historical Museum.  This generous donation matched the balance remaining on the museum mortgage.
You’d be hard pressed to convince anyone associated with the Gardner Historical Museum that fairytale endings do not exist.

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