St. Joseph Area Historical Society
The St. Joseph Area Historical Society was founded in 2002, with a few members dedicated to saving the history and artifacts of St Joseph’s past before they were forgotten and discarded. Ellie and the late Darol Studer were the major players, collecting, cataloging and displaying priceless artifacts.
The First State Bank of St. Joseph, as it was known then, (now Sentry Bank) offered the society space and a display in their bank lobby. Our collection grew, and so did our membership. The bank continued to grow as well, and in 2005, we were asked to find a new home as the bank needed their space.
With the help of city council liaison Al Rassier, we were told we had city support and were able to acquire the old city council chambers at no charge for use of the building and utilities.
As we settled in, the space was great, but our archives and research materials needed more room. We longingly looked to the old apparatus bay of the fire hall. The police department was in there but would be moving out. If we had gotten that space, the original city fire trucks would be loaned to us for display along with several large items that we have never been able to display. This was never to be though. A brewery got the space instead. What happened to city support?
In 2018, Mayor Rick Schultz told us we would be moving again, this time to the former Kennedy building the city had purchased. We had a walk through and were shown spaces that would be available. After more meetings, we were shown a map where the historical society would occupy the library space and surrounding classrooms. This would be great because we would’ve had workspace, archive space, meeting space and display space.
The society was looking forward to the move, but when we got the keys, we found we were being put in an oddly shaped room no one else wanted. The space we were told was ours had been leased to Little Saints Academy, the daycare that had occupied part of the building prior to the city’s purchase. The history of St. Joseph took a back burner to money.
All our artifacts and archives were piled in the oddly shaped room, and we began organizing the space in fall 2019. Shortly thereafter, word came the city was considering selling that building.
We trusted the city would value and support the importance of preserving St. Joseph’s heritage. This had been reinforced the past few years as the planning committee for the new community center included space for the historical society.
However, the St. Joseph Area Historical Society was informed via an emailed letter dated Dec. 28, 2020 that the former Kennedy building had been sold, and we had until Jan. 31, 2021 to vacate. No solution to the eviction was given or even suggested.
I reached out to city officials and was told they had no space for us anywhere. We agreed some of our collection could be purged if it didn’t pertain to St Joseph history. This is difficult as most of these items were donated by St Joseph area residents and also our numerous children’s teaching items must be kept so future children will be able to get hands-on experience concerning the history of St. Joseph.
I inquired about allowing us to move back into our former facility and was informed the building inspector had condemned the building, but I’ve also heard the building is possibly up for sale.
The society met several weeks ago to discuss our future. After some deliberation, we decided to continue to exist and do what was needed to prepare our holdings for some sort of long-term storage. As we packed again for another move, we discussed options. We do not have funding to rent a building. Storage units are expensive. A shipping container isn’t climate controlled. It would keep artifacts in the dark and dry, but condensation will occur.
In an email to the city, we stated we would like a 40-foot container but would accept a 20-footer to save money. We also asked for space to store the priceless and irreplaceable photographs, books, business ledgers, city records, paper documents, such as Western Union telegrams notifying families of military deaths, etc. These items will not hold up well to climate changes that occur inside a shipping container. I was told we would be allowed a 20-foot space in one of the public works lots for a storage container. We were also offered space for a display case in the common area of the city hall. Wall space will also be available to hang some photos. What about safe storage of documents and pictures? I haven’t heard.
At one point the history of St. Joseph was important to the city. We believe the St. Joseph Area Historical Society has not been given its rightful importance and place by the city. We are without a home as we continue to preserve our rich legacy in this community. Will future generations be given the opportunity to reflect on the 166 years of history and see and hold the treasures of our ancestors?
Unless continued importance is given to the St. Joseph Area Historical Society by the City Council, this may not be the case. How long will it be until the community center is built? What will it look like? If funding is short, what will be cut? Probably the historical society, as that seems to be the pattern.
Citizens of St Joseph, please reach out to your council members and ask them to step up. Many of you who call this place home value the preservation of the history of the City of St Joseph.