St. Charles History Museum sees challenges as a result of pandemic

Like other organizations, last year was a challenging time for the St. Charles History Museum because of the pandemic.

In 2020, the museum took in revenues of $120,000 after budgeting for $180,000 in revenues. The previous year, the St. Charles History Museum took in $155,000 in revenues.

The museum last year also budgeted for $180,000 in expenses, but was able to cut that down to $135,000.

“We were able to defray some of our costs,” St. Charles History Museum Executive Director Lindsay Judd told aldermen at the St. Charles City Council’s Government Operations Committee meeting on Feb. 16. “We tried to keep our utility bills down and we tried to keep our spending to a minimum. We did indeed survive one of the most economically challenging years the museum has seen.”

This year, the museum is budgeting for a balanced budget – $111,000 in revenues and $111,000 in expenses.

The St. Charles History Museum is requesting $45,000 in city funding for the 2021-2022 fiscal year, which is a decrease from the $46,000 the museum received in city funding last year. The funds are derived from the hotel motel tax revenue stream.

With the city’s hotel taxes down 82% compared to non-COVID years, aldermen appreciated the fact the museum is asking for less funding this year.

“Coming before us after the year you’ve had and asking for a diminished request, how rare is that,” 2nd Ward Alderman Rita Anne Payleitner “We appreciate your thoughtfulness. Our funding source for this has been diminished. The gesture is very much appreciated.”

Judd, who grew up in St. Charles and served as an intern at the museum in 2009, was named last year as the museum’s new executive director. In 2019, the museum hired an independent contractor to help the museum in developing a two-year strategic plan.

“From our strategic plan, we identified five values that represent the museum – heritage, community, stewardship, education and research,” Judd said.

She noted that 2020 was a challenging year because of the pandemic. The museum and the Curious Fox Gift Shop were recently able to reopen with occupancy restrictions in place.

However, staff has remained working at the museum even when it was forced to close because of COVID-19 restrictions.

“Even when we were forced to shut down, staff was still in the building working,” Judd said. “Aside from holidays and our normal January shutdown, we did not close.”

Despite the economic problems the pandemic has caused, she noted the museum was able to keep its budget balanced last year.

Museum officials also plan on applying for additional grants this year to help fund the museum’s general operations and various projects. Last year, the museum received a $2,500 grant from Illinois Humanities and received $15,500 from the Payroll Protection Program.

The loan funded staff for eight weeks, Judd said.

In the face of the continuing pandemic, the St. Charles History Museum plans to open a virtual exhibit on women’s suffrage on March 8. March is Women’s History Month.

“This exhibit will be hosted online for audiences to learn about the strength and courage it took to secure the vote for women in 1920,” Judd said. “We will take an in depth look at some of St. Charles most prominent supports of suffrage, including Clara Farson, who was the daughter of S.S. Jones, who is the gentleman that named our town.”

The museum also plans to hold a 5K virtual run in May as its first fundraiser of 2021.

“We decided to make this a virtual run so that way we can move forward with it regardless of what’s going on with the pandemic,” Judd said.

Eric Schelkopf

Eric Schelkopf covers St. Charles and writes entertainment stories for the Kane County Chronicle.