Dreams, partners help museum grow

These are exciting times for the tiny Rochester Hills Museum at Van Hoosen Farms.

Despite an economic downturn that has forced it to cut staffing and share its space with the city’s environmental education center, the museum is growing and busier than ever. Its most recent effort, the restoration of the Stoney Creek Schoolhouse, has been honored by the city’s Historic District Commission with the 2012 Earl Borden Award for historic preservation. The next big project, the restoration and adaptive reuse of a 1927 calf barn destroyed in a 1991 storm, is on target to break ground very soon.

Museum Supervisor Pat McKay said the museum’s success can be traced to community partners stepping up to help at a time when the city made it clear the museum needed to become less dependent on tax dollars.

“We’ve been given a bit of a leash to try to raise these funds, and our community has responded,” he said.

The transfer of the schoolhouse from Rochester Community Schools to the museum and its subsequent restoration is a good example. In 2008, the school district approached the museum about taking over the building on Washington Road, which dates to 1848. In 2010, after considerable study, the school was accepted as a gift by the city.

George Seifert

George Seifert, president of the George and Elizabeth Seifert Foundation, a major museum donor, tries on the dunce cap at the Stoney Creek Schoolhouse.

It has since been updated with a small lift, sidewalk, parking and other upgrades so it can continue to be used by elementary-school students to experience what school was like 150 years ago. Private philanthropy, business partners and a successful school-city relationship all worked together to make it happen without an infusion of tax dollars.

“We’re looking to have kindergarten through fifth grade living history right here,” said Michele Dunham, a retired teacher who leads the museum’s programming. “I am really, really excited.”

The building is just a short walk from the rest of the museum’s buildings in the area along Tienken Road known as Stoney Creek Village. The museum’s collections and exhibits are housed in a dairy barn on the former Van Hoosen Farm. The calf barn, once restored, is slated to become the home of the Broomfield Center for Leadership, which will house the collection of former Congressman Bill Broomfield, who is related to an early Stoney Creek settler. Now 90, he lives in Virginia and has made a major commitment to the project.

Fundraising has been under way for the past year to raise money for the calf barn restoration, which is now out for bid.

“We’re tapping everything that we have at this time to make sure we get that building,” McKay said. “As we’re building these buildings, we’re trying to endow them as we go along. So not only can we build the building, but we can turn the lights on.”

At the same time, the museum is continuing to work toward accreditation, improvement of its revenue stream, building its endowment and considering nonprofit status. The museum’s collection is expected to be available online very soon, and the second in a series of lectures on leadership has been scheduled for Sept. 28 featuring Mary Guinan, Ph.D., M.D., an early investigator of HIV/AIDS.

Funding for the ambitious plans is still being sought. McKay, who dreams big and has an infectious enthusiasm for the museum, points to its very existence as living proof of what can be accomplished.

“It always takes that one leader to stand up,” he said.

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