Committee Logs 80 Years of Service to Museums

On April 16, 1935 a group of interested citizens gathered for the first official meeting of the Oglebay Institute Mansion Museum Association. Since that time, the group, now known as the Committee of the Museums of Oglebay Institute, has grown to number 50 men and women who volunteer their time and talents to support OI’s Mansion and Glass Museums

Committee members celebrated 80 years of service recently during their annual summer luncheon at the Mansion Museum.

“The committee plays a vital role in preserving and interpreting our local heritage,” said OI museums director Christin Byrum. “Just this year alone members have volunteered more than 2,900 hours of service.”

Byrum added that the newest members have served for less than a year while the longest serving current member has volunteered for 44 years of continuous service. The current 50 active members, 14 sustaining members and four honorary members of the committee have served for a combined 836 years.

“The work of our dedicated, passionate volunteers is a major factor in the growth and vitality of our museums. Without them, we would not be able to accomplish all that we do,” she said.

There are only 779 museums in the United States accredited by the American Alliance of Museums, which sets the rigorous standards of what a top-notch museum should be. Of those 779, only four of them reside in historically rich West Virginia. The Museums of Oglebay Institute have the prestigious honor of being among those four. (While the Mansion Museum and Glass Museum have separate physical locations, they are classified as one museum by the AAM.) The others are the Clay Center for the Arts and Sciences of West Virginia in Charleston, Harpers Ferry National Historical Park, National Park Service and the Huntington Museum of Art.

“Keeping this accreditation is rigorous, costly and time intensive,” Byrum explained. “Without the volunteer committee, there is little chance of maintaining such a prestigious listing.”

The Museums of Oglebay Institute have been accredited by the AAM since 1972, which was the second year of the program. Achieving and maintaining accredited status means that OI’s museums are operating in accordance with national standards and best practices in the field.

“We were the first museum in West Virginia to be accredited. That’s really pretty amazing. Having fewer than 800 museums in the United States accredited means that less than 2.5 percent of recognized museums are able to obtain and keep that recognition. Here we are, a small museum in Wheeling, W.Va., which has literally been on that list from the very beginning.” Byrum said.

She said it is the willingness of committee members to raise needed funds as well as their leadership and guidance that make everything continue to operate smoothly.

“Without the support of the Committee, many of the annual events and activities that take place could not happen. Children’s Day and the Antiques Show & Sale are just two examples. Children’s Day has been and continues to be a tradition enjoyed by generations of Wheeling citizens, and the Antiques Show & Sale, the largest and longest running in the state, just celebrated its 61st year.”

The funds raised through the Antiques Show, for example, support key areas of operation that are critical to maintaining professional standards and practices: collections acquisitions, collections care, continuing education and professional development for the staff and internships.

Donna Glass, committee chair, says that volunteerism is about finding the perfect fit.

“There are a lot of great organizations doing really wonderful things, but it’s about finding the right fit for you. If you look at the example of the Museums Committee, you will see a list of names you might never put together as individuals, but as a group, I truly believe we can take on any challenge that is presented to us. Our individual passions and beliefs for preserving the museums and making them better is even stronger when experienced as a group.”