Don’t undervalue the museum

To the editor:

Greetings from Canada. While on my fifth visit to Union County this past October I was saddened to learn that the Union County Museum has had its operating budget severely cut. I wish to express my disappointment at this development and also to point out the cost to Union County of under-valuing this resource.

If not for the help and information I received from Mrs. Ola Jean Kelly and her staff, none of my five trips to Union County since 2009 would have taken place. Not one. On each trip I have brought a family member and stayed at least four days. I would estimate the amount we have spent in Union County to be $1,000 per trip.

Why have I been traveling 2,000 miles to visit Union County? Because a few years before my first trip I discovered my family lived there between the late 1700s and the early 1820s. However the real reason I came the first time and have continued to make trips is because when I reached out to see what could be known about how my people lived there at the time I found Mrs. Kelly willing and able to help me discover their story. I have learned something more on each trip and what is more have fallen in love with the place.

Places like Union County were a doorway through which much of the rest of this continent was populated. Hundreds of thousands of families can trace their roots right through your soil. History there is like a natural resource that can be exploited but it take the museum to mine that resource to get the value out of it. Resist de-funding your mine to the point they no longer have the time nor resources to cultivate a desire from people like me to visit in person.

My particular branch of the Foster family has lived in many other locations as we migrated west and then north in the nearly 200 years since leaving Union County. Many of those places are much closer and less expensive to get to from here in western Canada, yet most I have never visited even once. All of them have museums, but none of them have been able to reach back to me with the information and enthusiasm needed to inspire a visit. My point then is not mere mention of a museum, but that it be supported with the resources needed to provide something beyond what the Internet can offer — the sense that the past can be experienced in real ways. Your museum and the interest of your committed staff there made it possible to imagine there were sights and experiences in Union that would make a trip worthwhile — that the history I was interested in was nearly within sight.

Whether we come from far away or very nearby, those of us who are drawn to something about Union County’s rich history are all spending money in your communities. These dollars add up to significant economic impact as a direct result of the museum and its ability to interpret and inspire. Reducing the museum risks reducing its potential to lure visitors. This will mean more of Union County’s rich historical resources is not capitalized upon. It is a mistake.


Greg Foster

Edmonton Alberta Canada