The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

September 24, 2012

Frankie Meyer: Creative-thinking museums beat tough financial times

By Frankie Meyer
Globe Columnist

JOPLIN, Mo. — Did your ancestors work for a railroad? Did they live in McDonald County?

To find information on these ancestors, you can check the Internet, visit local libraries and check courthouse records. To find unique information, also check local museums.

Unfortunately, many museums are having a tough time financially, while others are doing well. Why are some groups more successful than others?

The Heart of the Heartlands Railroad Museum in Carona, Kan., is a great example of a dynamic museum. Founded in 1991, the Heart of the Heartlands Railroad Club has purchased land for a museum, obtained a grant that allowed it to build a museum and developed a first-class railroad library and slide archives.

Members have also added hundreds of railroad artifacts. Some are huge, and include passenger cars, engines and railyard equipment. Periodically, the club sponsors train rides and motor car excursions.

The club’s latest success occurred on Sept. 11 when a Kansas City Southern steam engine built in 1906 was moved to the museum site, where it will be restored and sheltered so it can be enjoyed by generations to come. The Dick Webb family, Watco Companies Inc. and numerous citizens, businessmen and government leaders have worked with the dedicated members to accomplish these projects.

Another dynamic group is the McDonald County Historical Society. In recent years, the group has restored an old house and developed it into a museum. They have also helped move the county’s first courthouse to the county seat of Pineville, where the logs were reassembled.

Recently, the group began restoring the county’s second courthouse, which was built on the square in Pineville in 1870. In June of this year, the group submitted research that led to the building being placed on the National Register of Historic Sites.

The group is restoring the rooms (which will include a research room), adding new windows, heating and air conditioning. After the rooms are finished, the next project is to raise funds for an indoor elevator.

The group’s fundraising efforts include the publication and sale of books about the area, dessert auctions, soup lunches, spaghetti dinners and an annual sale of calendars that highlight topics such as bridges, towns and churches. Funds are also raised by letting individuals and families adopt rooms at the courthouse.

County commissioners have worked with the group, encouraging them all the way. The group has also applied for grants and obtained help from many individuals, businessmen and government leaders throughout Southwest Missouri. This year the group set a goal of 100 members, which it recently reached.

What do these two groups have in common? They have leaders who set goals. Those leaders have also learned that success must include input and help from families, businesses and government leaders throughout the area. Next week’s column will be about other dynamic local museums.

Suggestions or queries? Write to Frankie Meyer, 509 N. Center St., Plainfield, IN 46168, or email