Every now and then, we at Mennonite Heritage Village (MHV) feel sorry for ourselves. Actually, we have a lot to be thankful for and few reasons to feel that way. But when certain challenges show up, we tend to compare ourselves with other museums that “have it easier,” a tendency which is not usually productive.
For example, we’ve just learned that the roof of our Hochfeld House needs urgent attention. The shingles are old and starting to curl, and some have actually peeled off in the recent strong winds. When a roof needs new shingles, we always need to assess whether the structure under the shingles needs some repairs. In this case, we think that might be the situation.
Numerous other buildings in the Village also need attention of various sorts, either immediately or in the very near future: Our windmill needs to have its entire deck replaced. That job will be undertaken this fall. The Reimer Store and The Printery need new paint. Fortunately, we have a volunteer who has adopted this project and has started scraping this week. (No doubt he would welcome some additional volunteers.) The Livery Barn Restaurant needs some significant repairs and a new coat of paint. Our hip-roof barn in the barnyard needs a new roof, some repairs and a fresh paint job. If someone had the will and the expertise to do it, we would welcome the restoration of the sling system in the barn. This apparatus was used to lift hay into the hayloft before farmers had bale elevators. The Chortitz Housebarn is also in need of repairs and paint.
All seventeen heritage buildings on our campus are wood structures, and all but one have cedar-shingled roofs. While cedar roofs are supposed to last fifty years, the paint on the buildings below them will likely last only five years. To keep the paint on all seventeen buildings consistently looking fresh and protecting the wood, we should be painting three buildings every year.
We must similarly be concerned about our old farm machinery. This collection of artifacts includes numerous very large items that are costly to maintain. But without restoration and maintenance, these historically valuable items will be lost. A corn binder, a manure spreader, and various other pieces with wood parts are particularly vulnerable to deterioration and loss.
As we contemplated this very lengthy and expensive maintenance list recently and considered the fact that many other museums have only one building and a much “smaller” artifact collection to look after, we admittedly felt sorry for ourselves.
But in the bigger picture, we know that there are many things for us to be grateful for. We are thankful that people have shown enough confidence in us to entrust important and large artifacts into our care. We are grateful to have local people and organizations with the wherewithal to maintain a complex piece of machinery like our windmill. Seeing a volunteer step up to paint the Reimer Store and the Printery is a blessing. We are thankful for the many volunteers, individual and business donors, foundations and governments who have made it possible for us to maintain our valuable artifacts and facilities over the years.
While comparisons with other museums can sometimes result in discouragement, the reality is that we are blessed to be in a mutually beneficial relationship with our constituency. MHV preserves and interprets history, provides a community meeting place and community events, and attracts tourism, which is beneficial to many other local organizations. In return, MHV receives much-needed volunteers, skilled craftsmanship, financial resources, and meaningful artifacts with their accompanying stories. We are grateful.