The Finney County Historical Society was able to mark a series of milestones on the recent occasion of our 2014 annual banquet. Most prominent among those was the announcement of our Finney County Pioneer Awards, which went to the Villa and Hazel Jennings and Ascencion and Isabel Mora families.
Those were bestowed on the 40th anniversary of our annual recognition program for individuals and families who have made significant contributions to local history. However, we were also able to celebrate some additional achievements.
Many of those go back to 1948, when a group of 14 people gathered at the Finney County Courthouse on the last day of January — just after Kansas Day — and formed the FCHS. That was more than 66 years ago, when the community itself had not quite reached its 70th birthday. Today, it has been 130 years since the official establishment of Finney County, and 135 since John Stevens, James Fulton, William Fulton and Charles J. "Buffalo" Jones founded Garden City.
FCHS, town's growth linked
Finney County has grown and changed extensively since then, and Garden City has emerged as a leader in business, industry, agriculture, health care and cultural diversity, education, recreation and energy.
Clearly, the growth of the Finney County Historical Society has been a lot like the growth of the community. Those 14 founders at the courthouse in 1948 probably had some visions for what this organization would become, but they probably still would be surprised at how many of their dreams have been achieved.
FCHS membership, for example, has grown from just over a dozen people to encompass approximately 230 individuals, families and businesses. As a matter of fact, we have welcomed 60 new members in just the past year, and the 2014 banquet drew the largest crowd we've ever had.
The founders might be impressed with some of the other progress, too. The society now operates a museum, obviously, that brings in an average of 50 visitors per day, with kids and adults able to see over a dozen concurrent exhibits. In fact, next month will mark the 20th anniversary of the dedication of our expanded museum, where we're continuing to offer trips back in time for people interested in the heritage of Garden City, Holcomb, Finney County and southwest Kansas.
Also today, we operate the Leola Howard Blanchard Library, which answers thousands of research questions every year. Not a week goes by that we don't hear from someone who was impressed with the information they discovered.
Our 1948 predecessors might be equally surprised by the society's education program, which last year served close to 7,000 adults and children. In fact, we have scheduled approximately 90 school tours and classroom visits this year, plus dozens of presentations for the community, such as our popular Brown Bag Lunch Series.
Memories and shining stars
Then, there is the Finney County Museum's collection, which today stands at more than 17,000 cataloged artifacts, photographs and records. Some of these are featured in our exhibit galleries, and some are held in storage, waiting their turns to go on display for the public.
Where else could you find things such as the actual rifles carried by Buffalo Jones, the bricks that first paved the community's streets, the plows that broke the sod on Finney County soil, or the remains of giant mammoths that walked the earth of Finney County in prehistoric times?
What other place can you go and just re-live some memories, like sharing a burger at the Woolworth Lunch Counter, tossing some peanuts over the moat at Monkey Island, or waiting outside in the ticket booth line in front of the State Theater?
The FCHS mission is all about preserving the past to enlighten the future, and this has been an ongoing effort since that January afternoon at the courthouse in 1948. In addition, we've made some progress in carrying out that mission over just the past 12 months, including the growth in membership, establishment of frequently-changing exhibits in the Front Door Gallery, the opening of the "Garden City Then and Now" Exhibit, and a series of ongoing renovations to improve your experiences in our main display hall and the Spirit of the Plains Gallery.
We don't know if it was intentional or coincidental that this organization was founded just after Kansas Day, but you can certainly find the state's motto in our museum — Ad Astra Per Aspera. The Latin translates as "To the stars, through difficulty," and maybe that's pretty appropriate for us. The Finney County Historical Society has faced some difficulties from time to time too. But in the community support that we're so fortunate to receive, and in the recent and long-term goals that we've been able to achieve with the help of our members, board, volunteers, friends, supporters and staff, those stars are shining brightly.