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Community Feature

The Library and the Museum – a Natural Pairing in Howard

July 30, 2019


Howard City Library and Benson Historical Museums Making Big Community Impact

Howard Community Mural Dedication Ceremony

Don't miss the dedication ceremony for the new mural on the Gragg Agricultural Building in Howard, Saturday, August 3, 2019.

It all comes down to the stories … and both books and artifacts have important stories to tell. In Howard, Kan., the library and the historical museum work together very well – and not just because of their close proximity on Wabash Street in downtown Howard, but because they also serve similar patron groups. This natural pairing and subsequent symbiotic relationship benefit the community, and SKT helps to continue their stories by providing free Internet services to both the Howard City Library and the Benson Historical Museum.

Staying Relevant with High-Speed Internet

Marcia Taylor, Benson Historical Museum curator, extensively uses SKT Internet services for historical research, for perusing, and generally searching for information. She posts advertisements for museum and community events on an LED sign near the highway and maintains a Facebook page. She’s expecting to launch a new museum website soon.

Karen Eshelman, Howard City Library director, says the Wi-Fi access provided by SKT attracts people who might not otherwise come to the library, including people who are working to complete online coursework toward a degree. The library is always looking at ways to improve as a community resource, and they’re considering the addition of an outdoor patio where people can access their Internet even when the library is closed. Karen also hopes to offer an internship for a local high schooler to bring a fresh perspective and additional digital skills to the team.

The Internet “gets them in the door,” she said, “and the library has so much to offer – from a regional and state level. It’s a lot more than just books!”

Karen also uses the Internet in countless ways … all the time for checking items in and out (connected to the regional server), accessing the “incredible” Kansas State Library website, and for some purchasing. She also maintains an active social media account, as well as a website. She exclaims, “The Internet is just woven into our lives now!”

Bringing the Community Together Through Events

The partnership between the library and the museum has created opportunities to drive traffic to their locations while building a more connected community, sometimes in unexpected ways through co-sponsored events.

  • Table Setting Contest
    Usually held in February or March, the Table Setting Contest was reinstated and reinvented by Marcia from a popular fundraising activity held in past years. Businesses, organizations, and individuals are invited to adopt and set a table to be viewed and voted upon by the public, and awards are presented. It’s all free and just for fun, but this event, coming up on its third year, draws people into the museum and the library, the co-hosts.
  • Summer Safety Event
    As the library and the museum became more popular destinations, concerns arose for the children riding their bikes downtown. What started as a way to promote bike safety has become an event with many community partners, promoting both safety and local programs for kids. This year’s 4th annual Summer Safety Event, held at the end of May to kick off the summer, attracted over 100 children. It included information on the library’s summer reading program, swim lesson sign-ups, bike safety inspections, life jacket distribution, a free hot dog feed, and lots of great prizes. In attendance this year were the sheriff, fire, and ambulance teams, and in past years “Bobber,” the Corps of Engineers safety dog. Several of Howard’s main street businesses and Elk County departments also participated and donated to help make it another huge success.
  • Patriot Pride Camp
    The West Elk schools were awarded a 21st Century Grant, effective through 2022. As part of this grant, a “Patriot Pride Camp” was established, in which children (kindergarten through 8th grade), are bused to swimming lessons and downtown to take part in fun, enriching activities hosted by the library and museum. For instance, the library conducted fun scavenger hunts in which teams of children were instructed to find and produce items such as a certain biography or an easy book that “starts with the first letter of your last name”; conversely, the museum dispersed photos of items to find (i.e., the handle on a farm implement), and once all were found, then the actual name of the object, its use, and history were discussed. Brilliant!
Get the details.

About the Howard City Library

Serving the city of Howard and surrounding area, the library recently finished up the Summer Reading Program, “A Universe of Stories,” where all ages were encouraged to “expand their universes by going to the library.” The library has Hoopla Digital Streaming, eBooks, digital audio books, databases and universal classes – all through the State Library; Inter-Library Loan; movies; audio books; offers computer use with wireless Internet access sponsored by SKT; copies/faxes; children’s literacy computer; microfilm/newspapers; and BOOKS! At a library tour, Karen heard children exclaim, “’Everything’s free????’ Yes, I tell them, it’s their prepaid services!’”

During monthly preschool story times, children ages 0-6 and their caregivers enjoy stories, songs and activities. The library sponsors a book club called BookTalk, and they’ve even hosted three “Open Mic Nights,” complete with a karaoke machine and two microphones! They’re also involved in community events including the upcoming Howard Fall Festival, as well as Christmas in Howard, Ladies Night in Howard, West Elk School Carnival, Community Garden Partnership, and Foster Grandparents Partnership. Be sure to say hi to foster grandparent Doris when you visit. She helps every single day, bringing the nice, constant presence of an older person to the library scene.

The library’s leadership has received back-to-back honors from the Southeast Kansas Library System, with Karen Eshelman, the director, winning in 2018, and board member Dana Denton winning in 2019. Karen has been at the library for almost seven years now. She grew up as the daughter of a Leon-area rancher. She has a “serious love for the small town,” so after their children were grown, Karen and her husband moved from Leon to further out in the country (between Howard and Severy), “because it felt like our childhood.” Soon after she assumed the directorship, the library applied for and was awarded a Makeover Grant, allowing for remodeling the building into a warm and welcoming space, which really “boosted things along.” Besides instilling a love of reading in young people, Karen says that their intention is to “help improve the community in any way that we can,” adding, “the amount of growth that I’ve seen just reinforces the idea that this is a needed spot in the community and we feel a part of the community … and now people look to us and ask us for participation.”

Visit the Howard City Library at 126 S. Wabash St. in Howard Monday through Saturday or call 620.374.2890 to find out more information about upcoming activities and programs.

Howard City Library Hours:

  • Monday: 1:00 to 6:00 p.m.
  • Tuesday: 4:00 to 7:00 p.m.
  • Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday: 2:00 to 5:00 p.m.
  • Saturday: 9:00 a.m. to noon

About the Howard Benson Museum

The Benson Historical Museum had a benefactor – Edith Benson – a single lady who taught piano, and whose father was an early Elk County settler and owner of a lumber yard. Without any heirs, Edith gave endowments to the museum, which were invested. It’s a tax-exempt 501(c)3 non-profit entity and offers free admission, while keeping all the buildings well maintained, along with preserving and displaying artifacts donated by Howard and Elk County residents.

Consisting of seven different buildings, located on the north and south ends of Wabash Street, the Benson Museum features general artifacts, a parlor, kitchen, dining room, bedroom, clothing, lace, and feathers in the Main Building; friendship quilts, military, doctor, and dentist artifacts, post office, and general store in the Auxiliary Building; a Doll Museum boasting over 3,500 very nicely-displayed dolls (starting with Bertha Baumgartel’s collection and still adding to it); the Gragg Agricultural Building, containing a threshing machine, 1916 Rumely oil pull tractor, and more; an old Gas Station Building on its original site; a One-Room School House moved in from the west of Howard; and an intriguing Tiny House built for Mittie Davis, a single mother with two daughters, by an oil baron. Donated by one of the daughters, it was moved two blocks. It has two bedrooms, a living room, kitchen/dining room, but no bathroom (!) and is furnished, including three stoves, cooking, and sewing period items.

Marcia Taylor has been the curator/docent of the Howard Benson Museum since January of 2017. Her father and mother were from the Howard/Longton/Elk County areas, but she did most of her growing up in San Diego, Calif., while her father served in the Navy. In 1969, between her sophomore and junior year, the family moved back to Howard and Marcia was in the first graduating class of the North Elk High School. Married in 1972, and she and her husband, Larry, have two children, now grown. Spanning a teaching career of 40 years, Marcia taught at schools in Moline, Cedar Vale, Garden City, and Scott City, Kan. She retired in May of 2016 and Marcia and Larry moved back home to Howard. Sadly, Larry was tragically killed the following year while working at one of the museum buildings. Marcia remains grateful they made the move back to Howard – such a supportive and caring community.

That support and caring climate translates right into a wonderful board of directors who help guide the museum. Progress is evident everywhere: In the two-sided LED sign that the museum was able to place just outside Howard that advertises museum, school, and chamber events; ongoing and future endeavors, including Marcia’s “Main Street Project” – putting the stories alongside the museum’s artifacts; efforts to restore and revitalize the iconic Howard Bank Building; and, Howard native, Christi Hubbell Robert, now an art teacher at Campus High School in Haysville, Kan., was commissioned to paint a mural on the entire east side of the Gragg Agriculture Building, featuring Howard people and places. She has been assisted this summer in the project by family members, Timber Robert, Rayna Robert, Jace Robert, and friend, Kaylee Snell. The project will be dedicated to the community in a ceremony on Saturday, August 3, at 4:30 p.m. Collaboration is creating synergy in Howard!

Visit the Benson Historical Museum, 141 S. Wabash St., 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Thursdays and Fridays or by appointment. Call Marcia at 620.330.7721 to schedule an appointment or find out more information about upcoming activities and programs.

Working Together Benefits Everyone

The collaboration between the Howard City Library and the Howard Benson Museum is a model for other communities, showing how joining forces and resources benefits similar patron groups and the community at large. Both are future-thinking, open-minded, and community-minded, allowing for new ideas to flourish and come to fruition. Karen muses, “We know what the museum is doing, and they know what we’re doing. We are very blessed with our community.” The stories continue in Howard, and SKT is honored to be able to provide the Internet connections that help power the synergy.