A Year in the Life of a Local History Museum

Story and photos provided by Amy Loch, Director of Stillwater History Museum at the Sheerar

It is amazing how fast some years fly by, for the Stillwater History Museum at the Sheerar, 2018 has been one of those years.  In January of 2018, the Stillwater Museum Association Board of Trustees, which operates the museum, gathered at Meridian Technology to work on a new strategic plan for the museum. This planning session helped lead the organization onto a new path for programming and fundraising efforts.  

Some of the goals for the year focused on increasing programming, partnerships, and marketing, to attract new audiences and increase museum attendance. These combined efforts led to many new visitors discovering the museum.  In early December, museum visitation surpassed 2,800, which is an increase of over 1,134 people in 2017. Auditorium attendance has also increased in 2018 with over 9,120 users.

Over the course of the year, we started our new 2nd Saturday Children’s programming series, which continues to grow in popularity.  These children’s programs are designed for kids between the ages of 4 and 12, with each month featuring different activities which connect to some type of historical theme. During the fall, we added a 3rd Thursday version of the same program from 2:00-4:00 p.m., which is proving to be even more popular, with new faces arriving each month.

In June, the museum partnered with the OSU Art Museum and the Prairie Art Center to host 75 students from Shawnee for a day of experiential learning themed around Famous Oklahomans. This new partnership allowed all three organizations to host a group, which would have exceed capacity of each of the partner organizations. The museum also continued its partnership with the Oklahoma Wondertorium for the 3rd grade program “How Oklahoma Began,” which served almost 600 students this year.

The museum featured presentations on Preserving Your Family Treasures, Genealogy Resources in Stillwater, and Lillie Solomon’s work conserving the Pistol Pete mascot heads. The museum also partnered with the Payne County Historical Society for several programs, including talks on Civil War Quilts, Stillwater’s Movie Theaters, and World War I and Payne County.

Temporary exhibits in 2018 included Boom and Bust Oil Towns in Payne County, Summertime Fun, Stillwater and World War I, and Basket Quilts, thanks to the efforts of our staff, interns, and volunteers.  The association also continued traditional events, including the 12th season of Cool Classics and the Holiday Open House. In fact, we offered enough programs in 2018 that we decided to add Debbie Williams as our new Programming Coordinator in August.

Another goal was to increase fundraising for Sheerar Center improvements, maintenance, and to increase financial stability for the entire organization. In 2018, a No-Go Gala was held, which raised almost $8,000 to improve the Sheerar Center’s drainage, by preventing water from seeping into the museum level.  This successful project was funded by community residents and will help protect the Sheerar Center and the museum’s collections for years to come.

The Board also undertook the 2nd annual Datebook fundraiser. The 2019 edition includes great stories from Hideaway Pizza, Lee Glass and Window, First United Methodist Church and many more.  In total, the publication includes thirty pages of unique Stillwater history and provides useful calendar and notes pages. This year’s publication was designed by Mark Pennie, of Pennie Works Studio. There are still a few books available at the museum for $20.00 each and will be available until sold out.  

Plans are underway for 2019’s programs and fundraisers and should prove to be another exciting year for the museum.  The Stillwater Museum Association Board of Trustees is pleased to add six new members: Judi Baker, Dennis Cyr, Mary Ann Grimsley, Joan Hert, Susan Matlock, and Debbie Strickland.  

In January, the museum will be featuring a basket weaving demonstration and children’s weaving activity on January 12 from 1:00-4:00 p.m., in conjunction with the American Quilt Study Group’s traveling 19th Century Basket Quilt exhibit. On January 27, the Payne County Historical Society will be hosting a talk on women’s suffrage by Velda Lorenz, of the Stillwater League of Women Voters, in the Sheerar Auditorium at 2:00 p.m. February will be a quieter month as the museum prepares to open two new exhibits on March 7.  The museum plans to feature a look into post-WWII Stillwater economic development, with its new exhibit “Still Pioneering,” and will also be featuring a variety of images to tell the story of the automobile’s impact in Stillwater.

In April and May, the museum will prepare for its award-winning partnership program “How Oklahoma Began” with the Oklahoma Wondertorium.  This program serves over 575 third graders annually from Stillwater, Perkins, and surrounding schools. We are also planning to update our Main Street exhibit this spring and will be working on a series of area walking tours for the fall.  

In June, we will be opening a Kappa Kappa Psi and Tau Beta Sigma exhibit in connection to the 2019 fraternity Convention, which will be held at OSU.  The national headquarters is housed in the historic Santa Fe Railway Depot on 9th Street in Stillwater, and there are several other sites around town that should be of interest to this group.

The 13th season of Cool Classics will return to the Sheerar in July, which always proves to be a delightful series of classically inspired music each Friday evening throughout the month.  As the weather cools, quilters will look forward to the next traveling quilt show from the American Quilt Society Group. “Solid Color Quilts” will open in October, and the year will conclude with the annual Holiday Open House in December.

To learn more about the museum and all of the upcoming events go to www.sheerarmuseum.org and don’t forget to like us on Facebook.