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DCHS board eliminates director

(Jed Carlson/jcarlson@superiortelegram.com) Tony Tracy, executive director of the Douglas County Historical Society, works on a display about the 1918 fires at the DCHS in Superior in July. His position will be eliminated in 2019 as the Historical Society board cuts its budget to live within its means.

The Douglas County Historical Society is making some operational changes starting in 2019.

As part of those changes, the Historical Society is eliminating its executive director and looking at the way it serves the community, according to board President Doug Dalager.

Executive Director Tony Tracy "was given an option to stay on, on a commission basis, but he chose not to," Dalager said.

In the new role, Tracy said he would have had to spend the majority of his time fundraising, something he isn't inclined to do. Tracy said while he had anticipated changes, he didn't realize it would be his position that was eliminated.

Tracy has served as DCHS director for about 4 1/2 years and was notified Nov. 27 by the board that his position is being eliminated in 2019. He said he anticipates working at the Historical Society through the end of the year.

"It makes me so sad," Tracy said. "I can find another job. I'm not worried about that. But I'm sad for DCHS. It started up in 1854 as the Settlers Club. They fully organized in 1934. When I went to the state conferences every year, I was really proud of it, because we're one of the oldest historical societies in the state, and very well thought of by the Wisconsin Historical Society ... I really fear for the future."

However, the board has fiscal realities to wrestle with, which includes the management of public money donated by the city of Superior and Douglas County annually.

"We have to live within our means," DCHS treasurer Jon Winter said.

"We're just trying to be fiscally responsible," Dalager said. "We're responsible to the city and the county to operate in a fiscally responsible manner."

Superior and Douglas County governments provide annual grants to the organization that preserves the county's history. While Superior has maintained a $10,000 grant in recent years, declining public land sales in Douglas County have contributed to smaller annual grants from the county. In 2019, the county approved for $3,642 of $10,000 requested by DCHS.

The county also cut funding for 4-H, Travel Superior, the Development Association and Lucius Woods Performing Arts Center, which will receive even less than DCHS in 2019.

"Changes in DCHS operations and budget were necessary for the long-term sustainability of the organization," Winter said. "While we may decrease some of our work days hours open to the public, we will add some evening and Saturday hours to better serve the public overall."

Dalager said the details are still being worked out and new hours will be posted at douglashistory.org after the first of the year.

While the director's position was eliminated, 42 staff hours per week are included in the budget for other Historical Society staff.

"While trimming our budget, I feel we can still offer the community our services," Winter said. "Research may take a bit longer in some cases; however, it will still get done. We can also look to increase our value to the community with more information available online."

Goals include increasing memberships, which have been on the decline in recent years, and continuing to provide research services to the public, Winter said.

Tony Tracy's final shows at DCHS

"Also, we're looking at adding some other events," Dalager said. "We're looking at doing 'History Sundays' again one Sunday a month ... Then we're looking at doing a craft fair there one Saturday afternoon a month."

Dalager said that would provide the community with a service and bring more people into Historical Society where they could experience the exhibits without an admission charge.

While the Historical Society hasn't traditionally charged an admission fee, except for events, Dalager said that is something the board could consider.

"We aren't in the same class as the Bong Center or Fairlawn — those are destinations," Tracy said. "We're a Historical Society that does research ... programs and helps with genealogy. There's not a lot flashy about us."

Dalager said the board is still working out the details about how the organization will operate in the future.

"Some of this stuff is still in flux and I hope to have the details worked out by Jan. 1," Dalager said. "We're going to look at reconfiguring some of our exhibits, do a little bit more work on our website. We're going to expand our options on our store to offer more options for purchases there."

And some of those sales could move to the internet.

"We've got a really, really large collection of photos in our archive that we're not really not doing anything with," Dalager said. He said one opportunity for the Historical Society could be to sell those online like other historical societies.

"The bottom line is history is a more difficult sell to get people to support it," Winter said. "It is very understandable there is a great need to support organizations that directly affect health and welfare issue of people, and for that matter even the welfare of our pets without a home take higher priority ... History and the arts also are important in our communities."

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