Delavan Common Council looks at support for Delavan Historical Society tonight
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Visitors look at exhibits in the Delavan Historical Society's Exhibit and Resource Center last year. The society says the loss of funding from the city this year means it can't afford upkeep on the center. Photo by Dan Plutchak.
DELAVAN--Over the years, the Delavan Historical Society has acquired pieces of the city's past: old phone directories, high school yearbooks, plat maps and photos of founding families, early "magic lantern" slides.
Problem was, there was no central place for them, so they were scattered in places like the public library or society members' homes.
By 2008, members decided a physical location was sorely needed.
The first site was a building at the Lake Lawn Resort's former airport. Then, a little over a year ago, the Delavan Historical Society's Exhibit and Resource Center found a permanent home at 635 E. Wisconsin St.
Now Delavan Historical Society's president, Patti Marsicano, is afraid a permanent home will once again disappear.
Under changes in how the city of Delavan collects room tax monies, the Delavan Historical Society won't get funds from the city for operating costs, and Marsicano says without the money, won't be able to afford to keep the resource center open.
The matter will be taken up at 6:30 p.m. tonight at the Delavan Common Council meeting, and Marsicano is asking people to attend.
"It would be a shame to see Delavan's history leave Delavan," she wrote in an email to members and friends. "We need your help! Come to this meeting in favor of the Delavan Historical Society. You don't have to speak if you don't want to--but your presence will say a lot."
Under the changes in the way city room tax revenue is distributed, organizations needed to apply for the funds. Criteria examined factors like how many people were drawn into the area because of the organization.
Marsicano said the historical society's application was turned down.
She noted that groups could apply for funding of major marketing events, but because historical society members are mostly in their 60s and 70s, putting on big events was difficult.
"It's hard to pull of things like that," she said. "We filled out the application, but we can't put a bow on it--this is what we do."
Mariscano said without some financial support from the city, the Delavan Historical Society's center would be able to operate only until spring of 2013.
Councilman Ryan Schroeder said the society gets calls from both locals and tourists about their resource center, and called the society's mission important.
"They show what makes us unique, what our history is and it's important to preserve that," Schroeder said.
Dave Kilkenny, a Delavan council member, was disappointed to see the society lose city funding.
"They were cut off at the knees," he said.
Kilkenny said it's frustrating to see a city-approved tax incremental district pump money into bigger businesses while leaving the historical society vulnerable.
He hopes the council will look into other options for the society's location.
Delavan City Administrator Denise Pieroni isn't unsympathetic to the historical society's mission, but said the city has to prioritize funding.
"We want to see the historical society survive, and we'll be looking at what options we do have there, but we have a lot of goals we're trying to accomplish," she said.