Ephraim Historical Foundation is a Museum on a Mission

New director working to make Ephraim museums fun, inviting

The Ephraim Historical Foundation’s new executive director wants to spread the word about what the organization has to offer and make it even more inviting to visitors and residents.

“Making museums accessible and fun is what I’m known for industry wide,” said Kelly Klobucher, who was hired in the fall after a nationwide search.

Board president Kathy Pentler said she liked Klobucher’s experience in the business world and with nonprofit organizations, as well as her knowledge of museum operations.

“Kelly really stood out for her experience, and she’s so positive and enthusiastic and curious,” Pentler said. “She has connections with people in the historical community in Illinois and even nationwide.”

Executive board secretary and active volunteer Marla Horwitz said the foundation welcomed Klobucher’s know-how in social-media outreach, public relations and promotion. 

“She has the skill set none of us have,” Horwitz said.

“People are interested in what we’re doing; they just don’t know it yet.”
— Kelly Klobucher, Executive Director, Ephraim Historical Foundation

And Klobucher has a long-term connection to the Ephraim area. 

“My uncle rented places here in the summer when we were kids, and he was in both Ephraim and Fish Creek,” Klobucher said. “When I was a little older, he had a place up in Ellison Bay. We used to go there in the winter, and it was beautiful – kind of like today, with all the frost on the trees. We’d cross-country ski and snowmobile and did all sorts of fun things.”

The museum’s smaller size attracted her to the position.

“For me, that’s a really good fit because you get to do a lot of things,” she said. “No two days are the same. It’s a great organization that is preserving historic buildings. I was very involved in that back in Illinois.”

Ephraim’s foundation built its reputation in preservation work, pushing to keep many century-old structures pristine throughout the village. Two years ago, the foundation eliminated admission fees to broaden its audience, while continuing to offer tours and a history tram ride for a fee to cover expenses. The free-admission effort gained momentum. Many visitors made donations and repeat visits after their experiences at sites such as the Pioneer School, Anderson Store or Goodletson Cabin, Pentler said.

The foundation had just acquired a new tram in the spring, when museums were locked down because of COVID-19 restrictions.

Kelly Klobucher. Submitted.

Klobucher arrived to help spread the word about what the foundation can offer when there’s a reopening. And, on, she and the foundation invite everyone to enjoy “‘Museum-ing’ at Home.”

Students aren’t visiting on field trips, and the foundation can’t send costumed reenactors – many of whom are in their eighties – to schools for “Traveling Trunk” programming. But Klobucher and volunteers are helping the foundation record more videos for students in kindergarten, fourth and eighth grade. 

Prior to her efforts for the Illinois Association of Museums, Klobucher served on Landmarks Illinois committees, and for eight years, she was executive director of the Hegeler Carus Foundation: a La Salle, Illinois-based foundation that operates a museum in a 145-year-old mansion built for a German-American industrialist family.

While there, Klobucher introduced regular programming indoors – such as architecture and artifact presentations by experts from the Art Institute of Chicago – and outdoors, including picnic concerts on the arboretum-like grounds. 

The Ephraim properties, like the mansion museum, also deal with history from the late 1800s until the 1930s, but here, Klobucher said, the foundation has a different story to tell.

“It’s all about building a community,” she said. “We talk about Rev. Iverson and the Andersons and all of those early settlers here in Ephraim who built the community into what it is today. The people who walked across the ice and settled here – they were pioneers. Their winters were hard, and their summers here were hard. It was not an easy life here in Ephraim and to build the community the way they did.”

When it comes to maintaining the structures and artifacts at any museum, Klobucher tries to follow best practices for preservation techniques as well as running the nonprofit organization and museum.

“We can’t just call Sherwin Williams and get paint,” she said. “It has to be accurate and appropriate to the time. Like on the Iverson House here, it’s whitewashed. So [it’s hard] trying to find somebody who has worked with whitewash before, and you pretty much have to put together a recipe and create it, and make sure it’s the right stuff that they’ve used all along.”

Other new developments will be the arrival of a new curator and expanding the foundation’s historic reach.

“We’re going to go back even further and tell stories about the indigenous people who were here in Door County and add that to the story,” Klobucher said. “We were only telling the story from 1850, and now we have to go back and acknowledge all of that history in front of that.”

While she and the staff work to improve their already-careful practices, the foundation continues to send members a weekly email with news and historical information. Klobucher would like to hear more from people about things they’d like to learn and stories they’d like to read.

“Our people are engaging with us in a totally different way,” Klobucher said.

For the Digital User

You can find new videos, local history, frequent History Hub updates and more at The Ephraim Historical Foundation staff is also working on creating a self-guided tour for cell phone users.

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