(Shaun Friedrichsen, Publisher)
In an unexpected move Thursday evening, four board members of the Jefferson County Historical Society submitted their resignations, in addition to the society’s curator Denise Andersen, leaving the society to reorganize.
President James Cunningham, Vice President John Howell, Treasurer Zach Schacht and Secretary Roseann Zach all resigned from their positions on Thursday evening. After some deliberation, interim board members were elected to fill those positions until the election happens at the society’s meeting in October.
Interim President Phyllis McCown explained that although seeing so many resignations occur at Thursday’s meeting, she believes there is only one direction for the society to go.
“Forward,” said McCown. “We have to move forward. All of the officers resigned and basically left us a mess, so we had to regroup. Now we’re ready to keep going.”
Megan Sothan, who now serves as vice president and interim director of day-to-day operations, believes that having so many board members resign was unforeseeable.
“It was somewhat unexpected,” Sothan said. “There’s going to be a lot to figure out here in the future. Of course just getting the day-to-day business in order is important. I regret that it happened the way it did, and that people are left picking up the pieces. However, I believe we will be able to move forward.”
Sothan hopes that once all of the day-to-day operations are organized, the new board can focus on more on maintaining the historic buildings and building educational programs that promote the history of Jefferson County.
“It really is a group effort,” said Sothan. “So, moving forward, we really just need to work together as a team and come together as a group so that things will be better in the future. We want to continue to preserve the buildings and to preserve the history of Jefferson County.”
Board On The Run
During the meeting, directly after Schacht read the treasurer’s report, Howell stood and read the curator’s resignation letter. Andersen was not present at Thursday’s meeting.
“’Members of the Jefferson County Historical Society Board of Directors, please accept this as my letter of resignation as Curator of the Jefferson County Historical Society, effective immediately.’ Signed Denise Andersen, July 7, 2016,” said Howell.
Following the reading of the resignation letter, Howell addressed the members of the board and read another letter, describing the resignation of the four board members. He emphasized that there were four letters, laying them on the table.
Howell, Cunningham, Schacht and Zach left their keys and documents on the table, and they filed out of the room.
Reorganizing The Historical Society
Board members Phyllis McCown and Lawrence Junker remained at the table, and continued the meeting by filling the vacancies left just minutes prior.
Sothan stepped up to help the board members to elect interim officers. After approving the resignation of board member Adam D’Angelo, an issue that was tabled by the board at the society’s meeting in June, all of the vacancies were filled. The new board consists of Phyllis McCown, President, Megan Sothan, Vice President, Peggy Junker, Secretary, Kenneth Dodge, Treasurer, and Board Members Lawrence Junker, Mary Ann Partin and Dave Moser.
In order to help organize the 2016 Steele City Flea Market the board decided to appoint someone to serve as the event chairperson. Dennis Kenning, who has helped to organize and promote the flea market and tractor show, recommended that Sothan be appointed.
“I think Megan would be an excellent person for that,” said Kenning. “Not just because you live in Steele City, but because the public relations part of it, dealing with people, is so very important. I think you would be an excellent person to do that. It would also be nice if somebody on the board had that position.”
The board unanimously voted to approve Sothan as the event chair. They also appointed Kenneth Dodge as the tractor pull chair. Julieann Endorf, who helped to organize the tractor show, explained that, because of the great amount of work it will take to make the tractor pull successful, volunteers are needed.
Because it will take time to research some of the society’s needs, the board agreed to table some of the issues on the agenda, such as the living history demonstrations during the flea market, repairs to the roof of the Diller Bank Museum and the audit waiver application.
Where’s The Checkbook?
As the new board members sorted through the items left behind by those who resigned, they noticed that something important was nowhere to be found: the society’s checkbook.
“There’s no checkbook?” Peggy Junker asked. “We’ll have to go to American National Bank after the minutes of this meeting are done, stating that there are all new board members because they’ll have to do all new signature cards.”
The board decided to discuss the issue more in depth after other issues were addressed. Commissioner Gale Pohlmann explained his hope that the society will be able to organize everything that was left behind to get the society back on track.
“Several of the last itemized treasurer’s reports that Denise gave to the commissioners, the May one and the June one, I’ll be honest with you, had no beginning balance, no ending balance. It just showed deposits and expenses,” said Pohlmann. “I hope you can get the checkbook, get the books. Hopefully everything will be made available to you. Hopefully you can get it all squared away. Then, I think, once the auditor’s report is in from the state, which should be by mid-August, you’ll get that and see if everything looks balanced and all back together.”
Peggy Junker asked Pohlmann if the board had the right to withhold a check to Denise Andersen, for the amount of $1,350, that was described in the most recent treasurer’s report. Pohlmann explained that it would be best for the society to check with the County Attorney, since it could be Andersen’s salary for the month of June. He stated that the commissioners would work with the Jefferson County Historical Society to help resolve the issues.
Replacing The Curator
Peggy Junker emphasized that it would be best for the society to wait on replacing the curator, because there is not an official job description for the position. Megan Sothan explained that there would have to be someone available to complete the day-to-day operations for the historical society and emphasized that it is not wise to close the Depot during peak tourism season.
“The point I’m trying to make is that if nobody is here, who is going to be answering phone calls and taking service calls and keeping the Depot open for visitors?” Sothan asked.
“We have no idea what condition anything is in,” Junker responded. “We need to do some research on that. So, I think that, put a sign on the door for now and say there is no curator. If they want to call somebody to let them in, we could put a phone number up there of somebody who lives in town, so they could open it if they need something. Otherwise, just have phone calls forwarded, or whatever.”
Sothan stated that the board does not have to hire somebody, they just need to address the issue so that the society can remain operational. Mary Ann Partin agreed with Sothan and stated she believes that the society needs to have a curator at some point.
“I think we need a curator,” said Partin. “I think it’s a mistake not having one. I’m not saying we need to appoint someone today. I’m not saying we need to hire somebody tomorrow. But I think it’s a serious mistake to leave our buildings and our other artifacts without somebody.”
Sothan reiterated that the society should go through a fair hiring process if they choose to hire someone as curator; however, that is not her main concern at this time. She believes it is necessary to maintain society operations so that the Jefferson County Historical Society can continue moving forward.
After some discussion, Kenneth Dodge asked if Sothan would be willing to be an interim director to help conduct day-to-day operations. The board approved appointing Sothan as the interim director until a new curator is selected.
“There’s Good People Here”
Dennis Kenning noted that the new board members will help contribute to strengthening the historical society. He believes that they will be able to resolve some of the issues that have plagued the society in the past.
“I appreciate you (Phyllis) and Lawrence standing your ground,” Kenning said as members of the audience applauded. “I appreciate the rest of you stepping up to the plate and being on the board. Quite frankly, I would not want your job. You’re walking into a mess, and I think you know that. But I am confident that you guys will do the right thing. There’s good people here.”
Megan Sothan wishes that the situation were different, but believes the society can truly begin making the changes needed to be successful.
“As a society, I just hope that we move forward and make it better to represent Jefferson County as a historical society, as we’re meant to,” said Sothan. “I thank everybody who’s been involved and volunteered, and who have given their input and suggestions. You help keep things going.”
While the historical society is reorganizing, one thing the board made clear is that the society needs volunteers. Mary Ann Partin asked for people to help the society to continue moving forward.
“We’re going to need a lot of help,” Partin said. “Anybody who is willing to come forward and volunteer, whether it’s manning one of the buildings so we can keep them open on historical weekends, or the flea market weekend. Or whether it’s coming in to help clean, or doing whatever, we’re going to need volunteers, we need people to come forward and let us know that they’re available and willing.”