Source: Sherman Publications

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Historical society has new president, new goals

by CJ Carnacchio

January 09, 2013

Membership drives, fund-raisers, new hours Ron Brock has lots of plans and goals as the Northeast Oakland Historical Society's (NEOHS) new president for the next two years.

But even though his eyes are on the future, Brock's focus remains firmly on the past.

"Everybody's so intent on improving and expanding and growing that they tear old stuff down to build something new that doesn't last," said the Clarkston native who's called Oxford his home for the last 15 or 16 years.

"I want to preserve things and teach generations to come (about) where they came from. I heard someone once say, 'It's hard to know where you're going if you don't know where you've been.'"

Consisting of a little over 100 members, the NEOHS is responsible for preserving, cataloging and displaying local historical artifacts at the museum it's operated for 41 years inside the old Oxford Savings Bank building (1 N. Washington St.) in downtown Oxford.

"I want to have a membership drive and get the people in the community more involved," said Brock, who joined the NEOHS back in 2000. "More people are joining and they're becoming more interested in helping out. That's really important to us and I'd like to see even more."

The society's annual membership dues are $12 for adults, $5 for students and $50 for organizations and businesses. Lifetime memberships are $125 for individuals and $500 for organizations. The society has approximately 70 lifetime members.

But Brock isn't just looking for members whose involvement is limited to simply paying dues.

He's looking for passionate folks who are willing to roll up their sleeves and get actively involved by leading tours, cleaning the museum, setting up and coordinating exhibits, publishing newsletters, organizing special events and securing sponsorships.

Brock also wants the NEOHS to start doing more fund-raisers such as the one scheduled for 1 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 9 at Seymour Lake Township Park (see box left).

Brock indicated the main goal of the fund-raising is to help the NEOHS accumulate a "cash reserve" that will hopefully allow it to someday purchase the museum building, built in 1922-23, from its current owner, the Village of Oxford.

"I would like to see that happen, so we don't have to worry about somebody blowing into town and wanting to make it into a penny arcade or something," he said.

Right now, the NEOHS pays for the museum building's utilities, insurance, upkeep and improvements like the new awnings it had installed.

Over the last few years, various individuals have approached the village with ideas such as selling the museum building to a private party, leasing it for commercial purposes and using it to house some sort of cultural center.

In all of the above proposals, the NEOHS would have been forced to move its collection elsewhere.

Brock is very much opposed to that.

"I don't think that we should move," he said. "I haven't seen another facility in Oxford that compares to what we have."

Brock indicated the community's very fortunate to have a museum that's located "right on main street" as opposed to being "tucked away" somewhere that's neither visible nor prominent.

"We've got a main street that's just fantastic," he said. "You don't find main streets that stay intact (like this) very much anymore. I don't care where you travel. It's very quaint and I'd like to see it preserved."

During some of the discussions about possibly moving the historical society out of the museum, it was asserted that its members "don't know what we're doing" when it comes to caring for the collection, according to Brock.

However, an analysis was conducted by some staff members of the Oxford Public Library and their report concluded, "Aside from a few minor suggestions, overall the collection was found to be in acceptable condition and proper care."

Brock would like to see the museum's hours changed to make them more convenient and increase the number of visitors.

Right now, it's open from 12-4 p.m. Wednesday, Thursday and Saturday along with additional hours during special events.

But Brock said the society is "exploring" the possibility of nixing its Wednesday and Thursday hours and instead, opening its doors on Friday evenings and Sunday afternoons when "people are more available" to stop in and tour the place.

"Basically, we're here to serve the public," he said. "We've found on Wednesdays and Thursdays, we're not getting much traffic through there."

Brock also wants to reach out to the schools. Every year, Oxford's second and fourth-graders take class trips to the museum, but he wants that program expanded to other grades.

"I'd like to see more of them come through," he said. "It would be kind of interesting to see what they retained from their last visit."

"I'm very interested in teaching kids history, particularly local history because there's a lot to be learned. They need to gain an appreciation for what's here," Brock added.

This month, the museum is planning to debut an exhibit celebrating Michigan's involvement in the War of 1812.

From Monroe to Mackinac and Detroit to Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan was the site of several key conflicts between the U.S. and Great Britain in what's often been referred to as America's Second War of Independence.

"We'll have some actual War of 1812 artifacts on display," said Brock, who noted there are two veterans of that conflict buried in Oxford. "We'll have some rifles, some bayonets, other military stuff."

The NEOHS museum will close for the entire month of February for maintenance purposes.

"We're cleaning the whole building from top to bottom," Brock said.

For more information about the historical society or its museum, please visit www.neohs.net. To schedule a group tour or field trip, please call (248) 628-8413.