Community members got a peek Sunday at many of the changes at the Mennonite Settlement Museum complex, and some homemade ice cream, too.
Hillsboro museum board members opened the doors of the visitor center, Loewen House and barn, Kreutziger School, and Friesen Mill for visitors to take self-guided tours of the facilities. Volunteer docents were on hand to provide historical information.
Tabor College students conducted children’s games, while Cottonwood River Band played on the Scout House patio, where Jim Regier was dishing up scoops of homemade vanilla ice cream.
About 50 people attended the festival opening ceremony in the Scout House, where board chairman Mary Regier acknowledged those who have made significant financial and volunteer contributions, chief among them the $50,000 David V. Wiebe Memorial Fund established in 2012 to support museum operations.
Regier also highlighted museum improvements, some of which were major renovations to the mill, roof replacements on four buildings, and an extensive Hillsboro memorabilia collection donated by Robert Sextro.
“We feel like we’ve accomplished a lot in five years as volunteers,” Regier said.
Hillsboro American Legion Auxiliary members Neva Kreutziger and Pat Bartel presented an American flag to be displayed in the Kreutziger one-room school. A grant from Hillsboro Community Foundation provided funds for school equipment, but the school had only a small framed flag hanging on a wall.
“We are always looking for ways to advance programs with kids,” Kreutziger said.
The museum has been available for viewing by appointment only since 2011, Regier said.
A part-time museum director and two support positions were eliminated by the city due to funding issues. At a 2011 public meeting, city administrator Larry Paine estimated the cost of operating the museum to be between $50,000 and $60,000 a year, while the museum was generating less than $2,000 of revenue annually.
Paine said Monday that “the picture hasn’t changed enough” for the city to hire anyone to re-establish regular hours.
However, Regier was optimistic Sunday’s event might get city council members to start thinking about possibilities.
“We’re hoping,” she said. “It’s one of the reasons we wanted to do this event, to let even the city people know what it is we’ve done in five years. One of my questions of Larry Paine was, ‘What’s going to be the sign to you that it’s time to reopen?’ Of course, that’s a hard thing to answer, and we don’t have an answer for that.”