These are trying times for everyone, and the Geauga County Historical Society is no exception.

With the COVID-19 pandemic forcing event cancellations, the organization’s primary source of revenue, President Bobbie Nichols of the historical society told the Geauga County Commissioners last week that her organization is “hurting a bit for money, and we’re trying to get through the end of the year.

“I think it’s a true diamond in the rough,” she added, “and it’s too bad that most of Geauga County doesn’t even know that we’re there.”

Ms. Nichols provided an update during the commissioners’ regular Sept. 10 meeting, outlining plans to expand to better reach members of the public who have yet to see the Century Village Museum in Burton and its accompanying locations, hoping to raise awareness, and potentially funding, for needed repairs and upgrades for the society’s facilities throughout the county.

She said the society owns about 25 buildings throughout Geauga County, the newest being the maple museum at Century Village in Burton and noted outside work the group has received for maintenance of those buildings.

Roof repairs are needed throughout the county, she said, but the money just isn’t there due to their cancellation of all 2020 events, later adding that the county had reserved one of the facilities early on in the pandemic for potential patient overflow, which affected their ability to hold some events.

Ms. Nichols told the commissioners that the historical society has about $10,000 in the bank with additional funds available in the Cleveland Foundation, which she said they’ve already tapped and are in the process of doing so again until they can make it to pancake season in 2021.

She said the historical society has plans in place to help in their mission for roof repairs through a program called Raise the Roof. Ms. Nichols said the society will seek outside help for people to take interest in certain buildings to help raise revenues for roof repairs.

“We’re also trying to reinitiate the program of heritage partners,” she added. “This is where businesses and people have taken interest in a certain building and have given a certain amount of money.” She explained that there are different categories for donations for what people receive in return for supporting the historical society, including plaques that go on the buildings. “That program, we had in effect a few years ago and somehow it just kind of went by the wayside.”

Commissioner Timothy Lennon noted that he and fellow Commissioner Ralph Spidalieri have had this conversation before with the historical society.

“We’ve been talking about this for a number of years now, and this was one of the initiatives we said, you need to start reaching out to the businesses and get some sponsorships,” Mr. Lennon said. “I do see that you’ve added more events, which is great, because that is really where your revenue is at.”

Ms. Nichols, who has been with the historical society for two years, said while the historical society canceled all of its programming for 2020, they are looking to add different events to engage the community, noting a potential Halloween program for adults.

She added that the society has taken advantage of the Paycheck Protection Program, which got them through about eight months with their payroll.

Mr. Spidalieri took the stand, however, and said the historical society needs to apply themselves more.

“I struggle with this [because] you guys have a great facility there. You’ve got that nice, big building that has the ability of having, you know, whatever events you guys want. I’ll be honest with you, I get a little bit disturbed every time I’ve sat in these meetings and had to listen to this. You guys need to apply yourselves,” Mr. Spidalieri said. “Instead of coming in here or wasting time, why don’t you put this time into doing something to get that promoted and get that place buzzing?”

He said the historical society has the ability to “knock it out of the park” with planning events amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, noting that everyone is dealing with the same challenges with planning events in regulation with social distancing requirements. “This whole COVID thing, everybody’s using this as an excuse.

“We could all lay down and just die right now, or we could stand up and fight. Which one do you want to be?” he asked. “If you’re here today to ask for money, I’m not giving you nothing. You need to go out there and hustle just like everybody else in the real world does.”

Mr. Spidalieri clarified that his intention was not to attack the museum, “I’m just telling you from my heart, you have the ability to make that place into the gem that you say it is.”

Ms. Nichols said the society has a list of events planned to do just this down the road, but noted that they were told by the Geauga County Health Department that they cannot hold staple events, like their Apple Butter Festival.

Mr. Spidalieri said the museum should be able to get programs up and running with proper precautions in place.

Mr. Lennon added that commissioners respect the historical society’s erring on the side of caution, but their events are their survival.

“All that’s well and good, but if they (the health department) came in and told me I can’t do my business, I’m telling you, I’m going to do my business,” he said.

The commissioners recommended that the historical society get in contact with Economic Development Director Dave Favorite for seeking promotion and guidance from local chambers of commerce and businesses, and Commission Clerk Christine Blair noted there are rising Eagle Scouts looking for projects that could potentially help with some of the society’s repairs or refurbishings.

“I support you 1,000 percent,” Mr. Spidalieri said on the society’s programming. “And if there’s something that I can help you with myself through my business, whatever you need, I’m a 100-percent in.”

“I know that you inherited a lot of issues,” Commissioner James Dvorak told Ms. Nichols of her new role as president.

“I’m glad that you’re set in the new leadership role, and I know things are going to happen, [but] they’re not going to happen overnight,” he continued. “I know that you can start changing things.”

Sam Cottrill started reporting for the Times in February 2019 and covers Auburn, Bainbridge, Bentleyville and Chagrin, Kenston, Solon and West Geauga schools. She graduated from Kent State University in 2018 with a bachelor's degree in journalism.

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