Grant will pay for exhibit, promote Hillsboro heritage

Staff reporter

Promoting the Hillsboro Mennonite Heritage is important to Stan Harder.

It should be. After all he is the director the Mennonite Settlement Museum and William F. Schaeffler House.

Educating visitors also is important to him and it appears that it's important to Kansas Humanities Council. So much so, the council gave Harder and his group $12,089 to help with the education process.

The grant will help pay for an exhibit at the Hillsboro Visitors Center that will provide more insight and information about Hillsboro's heritage. The exhibit will be an orientation for visitors before they physically tour the museums.

According to Harder, the goals of the exhibit are to enrich visitors' tourism experience and stimulate a deeper respect of the German and Mennonite immigrants, increase visitation, expand interpretation, and enhance educational opportunities within Marion County.

The project also will include marketing of the new exhibit, printing and distribution of brochures, and events — particularly one to celebrate the museums' 50th anniversary.

A big push also will be made for students of local and area schools to experience the exhibit and visit the museums.

The exhibit will be displayed on the north wall in the visitors center. Letters, photographs, newspaper articles and illustrations, and other resources that have been archived at the museums will be on display. The exhibit will provide an interpretive point of beginning for visitors.

Information will be provided by the exhibit that won't be available at the museums.

Professionals assisting Harder with this project are Jay Price, Ph.D., director of public history and associate profession, department of history, Wichita State University, and Church Regier, curator of exhibits, Kauffman Museum, Bethel College, North Newton.

Volunteers include Raymond Wiebe, assistant professor emeritus, Wichita State University and historian laureate of Hillsboro, Aleen Ratzlaff, Ph.D., association professor of communications, Tabor College, Verden Harms, museums educator/accountant, and others from the community.

Bids will be solicited for construction with work to begin in February with the development of a story line.

By late summer or early fall, a ribbon cutting ceremony is planned to unveil the exhibit.

The exhibit team will determine the story line as the information unfolds.

Harder said he was told that this was the last round of grants from the Kansas Humanities Council.

"This is a really exciting opportunity," Harder said. "I think that we have a wonderful project team and I look forward to working with them. The resulting exhibit will be something that the community will take great pride in."

About the museums

The Mennonite Settlement Museum, located on West D Street in Heritage Park, was moved to Hillsboro in 1958. The museum includes the historic Peter Paul Loewen house, a traditional Russian clay brick house building in 1876 in the Mennonite settlement village of Hoffnungsthal.

The house is the only one of its kind remaining in North America and is on the National Register of Historic Places.

Also at the Mennonite Settlement Museum is the Jacob Friesen Flouring Windmill — a detailed replica of the 1876 mill that stood in the Mennonite settlement village of Gnadenau — and the 1886 one-room Kreutziger School. The school was in service from 1886 to 1960.

The William F. Schaeffler House Museum, located at 312 E. Grand, shows visitors an understanding of the history of Hillsboro as illustrated in the lives and times of the Schaeffler family from 1886-1925.

The elegant 1909 Edwardian, Queen Anne-style home is on the National Register of Historic Places.

The museum is closed during January and February but will reopen in March.