Fundraising Efforts to Bring Changes to Pioneer Village

By: Megan Johnson Email
By: Megan Johnson Email

Dozens of buildings on 20 acres with more than 50,000 exhibits make up the Harold Warp Pioneer Village in Minden. A new year will be bringing about some new changes for the world-renowned museum as a fundraising campaign gets underway.

Pioneer Village Foundation Board General Manager Marshall Nelson says that the museum has used its motel, campground, and summertime restaurant to fund itself for 60 years.

"We're probably the only one in Nebraska, one of the few in the country that are self-sustaining, we've never requested or received property tax dollars," says Nelson.

It's a trend the foundation board hopes to continue, but going from over 100,000 people a year at its peak in the 1970s to around 25,000 now means there's not a lot of extra budget for improvements.

Nelson says a recent tax ruling that made the motel proceeds tax exempt won't add extra dollars to their budget because the Kearney County Board had been exempting them anyway, but a new fundraising campaign is already off to a big start.

Foundation board member Larry Wilcox says the campaign wasn't set to officially kick off until 2014, but they already have over $120,000 in donations and an anonymous pledge to match up to $1 million.

They're also seeking community involvement through an advisory committee to map out maintenance, restoration, and growth plans that will utilize those funds. Wilcox says they want the community to have ownership in what happens to Pioneer Village, and they're hoping to get more people involved as volunteers.

"I think what we're going to see out of some of the people, that we're going to have more volunteer work coming in, realizing part their project as well as other people in the United States," says Wilcox.

The board hopes laying out detailed plans and keeping the public informed about progress will encourage more donations because Wilcox says many donors want to know what they'll be funding.

"Some people are wanting to put money into capital improvements, some of them want to put it into the upkeep of the Village, and we definitely want to show them that we have a plan," he says.

Minden city leaders say new marketing strategies will help Pioneer Village maintain their current status, and hopefully grow over time.

"Our biggest fear is letting that slide and being complacent and see that 25,000 drop to 10,000 and I think everybody here thinks that we can double it from 25,000 to 50,000," says Matthew Cederburg, Minden City Administrator.

Mayor Roger Jones says the interstate drew traffic away from Highway 6/34 that goes past Pioneer Village's front door. He says the pinch the economy has put on family travel means that visitor numbers might not never reach those 1970s peaks again.

"But if we can go from a current attendance of 25,000 and boost that to 35,000, I think that'll be a great stride forward," says Jones.

"We're looking at this as a phenomenal opportunity to go forward," says Nelson.

The foundation says that besides cash and volunteer help, they're also taking commodity donations like grain or livestock to sell for funds.

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