Forward Thinking

Almost 50 years ago, the Fenton History Center opened its doors to visitors for the first time. Last week, they held their annual business meeting to look back on the last 12 months and the progress that has been made, including the adoption of a strategic plan.

“2012 concludes my fifth year as president of the board of trustees, and it was a year in which we tried new things and saw some things that we have been planning to take place for five years actually happen,” said Michael Rohlin, Fenton History Center board of trustees president.

Recently, the center’s entire collection of archival records was moved next door into the Hall House, which is being converted into a research center. The collections office and archivist office are also in the process of being moved into the Hall House. Future plans will also see a new entrance and gift shop being built in the Fenton mansion, along with more exhibit space and a formal dining room.

“The Hall House is a wonderful space and much nicer to work in than the crowded research area at the mansion,” said Rohlin. “All of this was planned many years ago, but steps have been made now that are very noticeable. Our plan is that through this, we will be better equipped to serve the future.”

Despite the fact that the Fenton fell almost $12,000 short of their budgeted goal for 2012, director Joni Blackman is still optimistic about the future.

“We budgeted very closely to the numbers that we actually saw,” said Blackman. “We had some grants that didn’t come through, and participation from schools wasn’t as high as we’ve seen in past years, but those were the only two areas where we really fell short.”

During 2012, the Fenton continued its brown bag lunches, tours of the Lake View Cemetery and walking tours of the city, all of which will be returning in 2013.

“The walking tours were extremely well attended,” said Rohlin. “They brought in a lot of membership for us – at least one new member for every tour that we held. It’s starting to get to the point that we have people coming from around the country and Canada to take part in these events.”

According to Rohlin, the future of the center will rely heavily on the existing staff attempting to build membership and find more avenues for funding. In order to help ease the strain of this, the Fenton board of trustees recently adopted a new, three-year strategic plan that will support the growth of the facilities and the programming.

The new strategic plan calls for the construction of an upgraded gift shop, new and refurbished exhibits and a more engaging orientation room that will help the visitor learn more about the history of the area. It also calls for the creation of an endowment fund to support the future maintenance and operation of the Hall House.

“I don’t ever remember seeing this much progress and movement before,” said Rick Lundquist, a longtime friend of the Fenton History Center who was appointed to the board of trustees on Wednesday. “I think it speaks very well to the work being done by board of directors and to Joni. I’m very much interested in the history of Jamestown, so I’m extremely excited about the future of this organization.”