Seymour Museum’s inaugural gala raises $25,000+

Seymour Museum Center had 200 tickets available for the Opening Night, Let’s Make History…Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow grand opening gala.

At $100 apiece, those sold out.

“I voted to charge a little less. I was wrong,” board President Lenny Hauersperger said, laughing. “I’m glad I was wrong.”

Add in the sponsors for the Aug. 5 event, money raised from a 50/50 raffle and donations given that night, and the total raised exceeded $25,000.

“We got more than I first expected, so once all of the donations come in, I think we’re going to be closer to $30,000, which for the first time having this event is amazing,” Hauersperger said.

The event served as a celebration for the museum finally being ready to open to the public after nearly six years of renovation to the historic building at 220 N. Chestnut St., Seymour.

“Everyone loved it. I heard nothing but good comments from everyone,” Hauersperger said. “We sold out, so that was a good problem to have, and the sponsors were amazing. Everything just fell together.”

Board member Erik Zakrzewski was chairman of the gala and said it was a large undertaking with a lot of moving parts.

“Ultimately, we were able to get the building into great shape in time for the event, and we are truly grateful and blessed to have such a positive and exciting reception from the community,” he said. “None of this could have been possible without the community’s support. Really, it is the people of Seymour who have made this vision a reality.”

He said the board members have been working so hard to keep this vision alive.

“It is these folks who deserve the award and recognition for the successful opening of this historic landmark,” Zakrzewski said. “The turnout was an overwhelming wave of positivity and excitement. I really think people enjoyed seeing Seymour’s history represented in such a nice and official way.”

The gala included unveiling of a statue and presentation of the Meedy & Eliza Shields Founders Award.

The Union soldier statue long stood at Shields Park in Seymour but at one point was put in storage after the head and one of the hands went missing.

When the city decided to donate it to the museum, a crane was used to place it near the front steps. Then work started to find someone to make a new head and hand.

Zakrzewski, who joined the board in the fall of 2022, oversaw the statue restoration.

“The statue restoration was a project that took a lot out of me,” he said. “Stripping what seemed like 100 years of old paint layers and getting the statue ready for assembly of parts and eventually the beautiful bronze paint was quite the struggle. Whoever painted that statue originally deserves an award for their efforts.”

He had approached Jeremy Wischmeier with Seymour High School’s Owl Manufacturing this past winter about a collaboration project, and he’s happy with how it turned out.

“The 3D technology used to scan and re-create the missing head and hand was really cool to watch come to life,” Zakrzewski said. “This project was a work of love, and I think the result looks fantastic.”

The Founders Award was presented to the family of the late Linda Bollinger McCoy, who had donated original paintings of the founder of Seymour, Meedy Shields, and his wife, Eliza, to the museum. Meedy was her great-great-great grandfather. Her family also founded John C. Groub Co. in Seymour and donated land and money to start a hospital in Seymour.

“Her family was quite thankful to be recognized,” Hauersperger said. “I got to present the award. It was an honor. It could be difficult to pick every year after this one because we’ve got so many (who have donated items to the museum). It’s a great problem to have when we’ve got people wanting to donate some really nice artifacts that have Seymour history.”

Another highlight for the board was showcasing the Elbert S. Welch antique telephone collection. Seymour Museum Inc. was established in late 1969 for the purpose of accepting, caring for and displaying the collection.

A portion of it was on display in one room of the Farmers Club as a temporary home of the museum. Meanwhile, the search for a permanent home began.

For a period of time, the collection was boxed and stored in the basement of the Farmers Club while that building was being restored. Subsequently, the collection was moved again and stored for many years in the basement of Seymour City Hall, which formerly had been the headquarters of Southern Indiana Telephone & Telegraph Co. Welch became the company’s general manager in 1916.

“He worked for 48 years in Seymour, and he collected foreign and antique phones during those years,” Hauersperger said. “He also collected photographs, scrapbooks, recordings and other phone artifacts, including mannequins — one is a British telephone lineman — and a phone booth. He had an amazing collection, and we’re excited to finally get to bring that out.”

Restoring the first floor of the museum so the collection and other artifacts could be viewed by the public was part of Phase 1 of the renovation of the 1915 building.

Hauersperger said the $200,000 in American Rescue Plan Act funds awarded to the museum from the city helped finish phases 1 and 2, including the upstairs.

Phase 3 will be renovating the basement and finishing the back area of the first floor.

Other fixture work that needs to be completed include window blinds (10 at $700 each), upstairs window restoration (five at $5,000 each), foyer flooring ($5,000), entry flooring ($15,000), lighting (six at $450 each), exterior painting ($10,000) and brass hand railings ($15,000).

“The opening gala money will be going toward some of these projects,” Hauersperger said. “We raised over $25,000, so that will help tremendously, but we’ll need to continue having fundraisers, and we’ll continue applying for grants to help us. We still have work to do, but we’ve come a long way.”

More than $200,000 is needed to install an elevator, too, he said.

Anyone interested in donating money or artifacts may contact Hauersperger at 812-530-9272.

The museum will be open to the public from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Sept. 9 and continue each Saturday and possibly another day of the week. Admission will be free, but freewill donations will be accepted.

“We’re so excited to be open on a consistent basis,” Hauersperger said. “We’re already getting calls about museum visits. We’d also be open for groups upon request.”

Zakrzewski said it will take volunteers to expand the hours of operation.

“We would like to be open Wednesdays and Saturdays to start, but we do not have the staffing necessary at the moment,” he said. “We would be open to talking with anyone who could spare a few hours here and there to help us keep the doors open. Every little bit helps.”

The community has shown unwavering support to this point, something Zakrzewski hopes continues.

“The people of Seymour have poured nothing but support into what we are doing,” he said. “I can speak for all of the board members in saying that we are all looking forward to seeing people visit our exhibits and help us keep the doors open by coming in to see us.”

Although he’s not from Seymour, Zakrzewski said he’s a historian who sees the value in preserving the history of Seymour.

“Having a place dedicated to these stories and preserving the experiences of those who came before us is one of the most important things a community can do for itself,” he said. “It is an important step to ensure the legacy of those who built this town does not perish and that our self-esteem to continue to build and grow does not lose momentum.”