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ITOW museum ‘going to be OK’

Things are looking up for the In Their Own Words Veterans Museum.

Faced with a daunting debt at the start of the New Year, museum leaders are now, just six months later, saying what skeptics didn’t think was possible – “ITOW is going to be OK.”

In an interview with the Focus last week, Marcia Davis credited the remarkable financial turnaround to “tremendous” community support and “a lot of hard work and exhaustion” by the five-person board of the Friends of the History Museum of East Otter Tail County. Davis is the president of that board.

ITOW leaders announced in December that they had 14 months to pay off a $625,000 mortgage or risk losing the museum building – a challenge that Davis said felt paralyzing to people in the community, including, at times, the board members themselves.

“There was some hopelessness at times,” said Davis. “People were thinking they just couldn’t do another big fundraiser. People were overwhelmed.”

Still, the handful of board members remained devoted to their cause, and didn’t give up. They made a strategic plan for the museum’s finances, and they stuck to it.

Today, thanks in large part to their efforts, ITOW’s debts are back down to “a workable number,” according to Davis. The $625,000 originally needed is now down to $300,000, “and plans are in place to raise that.”

In addition, a former requirement to have a chunk of that total paid off by July has been waived, relieving some of the immediate pressure.

Davis said museum leaders – all volunteers – “have been working double-time” over the past few months to get the museum back in good standing. They’ve participated in countless meetings with their nonprofit mortgage lender, the Midwest Minnesota Community Development Corporation, as well as Perham city officials, to garner financial guidance and assistance. They’ve also held fundraisers, and met with potential donors.

The result has been a mix of loan refinancing and forgiveness, as well as help from some “phenomenal” community benefactors, Davis said. She was hesitant to get into specifics about that yet since there were still things that needed to be finalized, but she revealed with noticeable emotion that it’s now safe to say ITOW’s future in Perham is secure.

“The things that we’ve strategized for, planned for and hoped for, have come to fruition,” she said.

Within the last five months, the board has worked hard to repair ITOW’s financial reputation, paying off 50 percent of the museum’s old bills, and working out payment agreements for the rest.

In the future, the board will continue to fundraise. They will also continue to redefine ITOW’s mission as not only a unique museum that tells veterans’ stories “In Their Own Words,” but also a resource and social center for veterans and the community.

Marie Johnson

Marie Johnson joined the Perham Focus more than five years ago, and has since worn many hats as writer, editor and page designer. She lives in rural Frazee with her husband, Dan, their one-year-old son, Simon, and their yellow lab, Louisa. 

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