By H.E. “Red” Caldwell, President, Bitter Root Valley Historical Society Board of Directors
The Bitter Root Valley Historical Society (BRVHS) is a non-profit organization established to preserve and interpret the culture and history of Ravalli County and its residents. To perform its mission, the BRVHS has operated the Ravalli County Museum located in the old Ravalli County Courthouse, 205 Bedford Street in Hamilton, since 1979. As members of the BRVHS Board of Directors, we have been deeply involved in trying to figure out how, perhaps if, the Museum can financially survive to fulfill its mission in our time and for generations to come.
As we all know, these are tough economic times. Many non-profits are suffering a decline in revenues. In fact, it seems that everyday we each get one or more “critical need” mail solicitations from non-profit organizations. Amidst these solicitations, we ask ourselves, “where does the Museum fit in?” The Museum doesn’t feed the hungry, it doesn’t shelter the homeless or abused, it doesn’t fight or cure illness and disease. Yet, we believe it does something of value in our community. It preserves our history and our culture. It enables us to remain in contact with our roots and our way of life. It gives us a link to the past which just may help us find our way to the future.
Thanks to benefactors of the past, the BRVHS has been able to keep the Museum open despite operating budget deficits incurred. However, continuing to operate at a loss hastens the day when the Museum will close for good. On the expense side, we have frozen salaries, cut back on supplies and equipment, and taken other budget-cutting steps just short of dismantling our ability to operate the Museum. Unfortunately, our revenues still remain short of expenses.
While we are grateful to have the use of the old Court House, a Ravalli County owned building, we get no tax money to operate the Museum. Instead, we depend on fundraisers like Bitterroot Days and Apple Days, BRVHS membership dues, gift shop sales, admission fees, donations, memorials and bequests to support a staff of one permanent employee and four part-time employees. While we are grateful for our 160 BRVHS dues paying members, we strive to connect with more of the Valley’s 40,000 residents who share our belief that we can learn from the past and we can, and should, keep the doors to the Ravalli County Museum open.
There is much we want to do, much we need to do to remain relevant in today’s world. We are in the midst of interior restoration and working to develop new programs in the areas of local history, natural history and art. But restoration and new programs take money.
In the final analysis, the Ravalli County Museum is our Museum. It needs our collective support if it is to survive. If you are willing to help, whether as a new BRVHS member, a volunteer, a donor or an event/program sponsor, now is the time. Applications for BRVHS membership are available at the Museum. Donations may be sent to the Museum at 205 Bedford St, Hamilton or at the Museum website www.brvhsmuseum.org. Volunteers and sponsors can call the Museum at 363-3338. Thanks for your help! We look forward to seeing you at Apple Days!