The McDonald County Historic Courthouse Museum has received the 2020 Award of Excellence In Standards of Practice for Missouri Museums from the Missouri Association for Museums and Archives (MAMA).
In a nomination letter to MAMA, McDonald County Historical Society board chair Lynn Tatum discussed the merits of the museum. She first highlighted that the museum is admission-free, run by volunteers and completely supported by local donations.
She then began to describe some of the detail that went into constructing the 24 exhibits in the museum's 20 rooms.
"Each room has a theme identifying a rich and unique McDonald County story. Explicit and exact goals were laid out. If an exhibit could not meet any one of these criteria, it was not constructed," she said.
She also noted exhibits were created with children in mind, with interactive features such as rotary phones visitors can dial in the phone room and old-fashioned desks and slates children can use in a reconstructed classroom.
Tatum drew attention to two outreach programs of the museum. One program is a tradition that all county fourth-graders visit the museum each year on a field trip. The other outreach program is the repetitive performance of "Snake County Stories," a play written by Meredith Ludwig, performed by volunteers, based on oral histories of McDonald County, she said.
Tatum said two projects led by Phyllis Chancellor are of special note -- the military exhibit in the courtroom, consisting of 113 photos of county veterans and their stories, and the schools exhibit, which involves a large map of county schools and a set of albums with a growing number of school photos.
Finally, Tatum stated that the organization's website, run by LaSandra McKeever, has visitors from 40 states that spend an average of 3.5 minutes of active time per page when the average for websites is two minutes.
Al Chapman, who served as board chair for the historical society from 2014 to 2018, in a letter of support for the nomination, said, "During the past 10 years, there has been a resurgence of activity from our historical society, beginning with the renovation of the old courthouse, which was in severe disrepair, into the fantastic McDonald County Courthouse Museum that it is today."
Chapman also noted that the historical society applied for and received designation of the museum on the National Register of Historic Places.
National museum consultant Alisha Cole, who trained volunteers from the historical society when they were starting the museum, said in her letter of support, "The transformation of the county courthouse into an inviting and immersive experience in the rich heritage of this Ozark county is truly inspiring. They illicit surprises and delights at every turn. However, their story is not solely about their amazing past achievements. Their committees continue to conduct research, exhibit enhancements and search for new ways to share the stories of McDonald County."
McDonald County presiding commissioner Bill Lant, a former state representative, said in his letter of support that dozens of state representatives and senators have toured the museum and that he has even heard the governor and lieutenant governor mention it when the house was in session.
"McDonald County has an incredibly rich and varied history, from mining, agriculture and industrial interest, to recreation and education," he said. "McDonald County has something for everyone. Our museum does an excellent job of showcasing the heritage and diversity of our county."
Tatum said she learned the museum had won the award on Oct. 13, and she accepted the award at the MAMA Fall Conference on Oct. 21.
When she learned they had won the award, she said, "I was delighted, absolutely ecstatic. We're such a small museum compared to those that typically belong to this organization. Most of them have paid admissions and a large paid staff that write grants and do the outreach and the curating and the exhibits and the maintenance of the building that we do on a volunteer basis, they do on a much bigger scale with professionals. I think they were impressed with what we accomplished without paid staff.
"I am thrilled because I have always felt we're kind of tucked down here in the corner of the state, and it's kind of hard for people who are running state organizations to visit us. It's a big deal when a small organization like ours gets recognized by the professionals in the state and recognized for our standards of excellence.
"I was happy for the people of the county who have supported us enthusiastically over the years. It's been a humbling experience to have so many people and businesses and the commissioners and the library and ... so many organizations support us ... It's been a humbling experience to have the enthusiasm of so many people behind us."
She noted many people have donated labor and materials for improvements at the museum at various times as well.
"When you get an award like this, the award really belongs to the people of McDonald County," she concluded.