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President of the Bernard Historical Society and Museum

Bernard Museum making best of bequest

President of the Bernard Historical Society and Museum since 2015, Rod Kroes has a keen interest in local history. Standing front of the main museum building. On the left is the former one-room Brown School, which is a one of the attractions on the grounds. Elaine Gilbert Contributing Write rA recent bequest has both energized and challenged the Bernard Historical Society and Museum in Delton.The museum was founded by the late Dr. Prosper Bernard in 1962. He had started a medical practice in Delton in 1928, and built a small hospital in the 1930s. The hospital and the land it sat on became the site of the museum, all donated by Bernard.Another major donation to the museum was provided by the late Harold and Edythe Marshall. Several area organizations received bequests from the Hickory Corners couple after Edythe’s death in early 2017. Storage and grounds improvements are at the top of the Bernard Museum’s wish list.When the museum was founded, the philosophy was to display 100 percent of the donated artifacts to encourage contributions and therefore grow the museum’s collection, said Rod Kroes, who currently serves as the board president. After 56 years, the museum has an abundance of artifacts. “Too many items are on display, so we can't rework displays because we didn't have any place to put them,” Kroes said. “It's overwhelming, and you can't tell a story.”Most museums only show 15 to 20 percent of their holdings; the rest is in storage, he said.The Marshall donation should help in managing the collections.“We have a lot of plans that we're working on right now,” Kroes said, adding that the bequest has allowed the museum to move ahead faster on some long-sought projects. The new storage building is structurally completed for that purpose, but still needs shelving, insulation and electricity.“That will be a place where we can store items so we can rotate things in the displays and keep the displays fresh so that when people go through one year, they might come back the next year and they can see different items. Then we'll have better displays in terms of less clutter within the display and more information,” he said.Kroes said he thinks Dr. Bernard's antique medical equipment is fascinating and would like that to be more “front and center” in the museum.“His old X-ray machine looks like a Dr. Frankenstein thing … We should be highlighting medical history because there's not really another place in this part of the state that's doing that,” Kroes said.Kroes also has tagged the museum's Native American display to be reworked to make it more germane to the Native Americans who lived in the area.The museum has a wide variety of artifacts, and visitors can expect to find items that interest them, including antique farming implements which are tied directly to the history of the community, as well as military artifacts dating back to the War of 1812.The museum fronts on Crooked Lake, and a lot of people who live on the lake have told Kroes the museum grounds should have a dock.“Lake people have guests who come out and they are always looking for things to do. So that's on our radar to go ahead and put it in,” he said. “The overall plan, since we have 30-some lots and nearly three acres, is we would like to turn it into more of a park setting with the museum on it. I think we might be able to entice more visitors that way, as well.”The museum board also will be addressing issues regarding other buildings on the grounds now that more funding is available.Besides hoping for more visitors at the museum because of all the planned improvements, Kroes is hopeful more people will be motivated to become members and volunteers at the museum.“We rely on them, and we're desperately shorthanded. I think if they can see it is a fun place to be and exciting, I think we can get more people to volunteer,” he said.Recently, the board commissioned Kroes' niece, artist Jessica Cooper, to paint an outdoor mural on a wood panel. A graduate of Delton Kellogg High School and Western Michigan University's art program, Cooper also has had items on display in ArtPrize.“We designed it to look like a postcard from the '20s and '30s and how they used a lot of vibrant colors,” Kroes said. “She did a wonderful job. She is going to do one more panel, and these panels will be mounted on buildings outdoors, and people can walk by and see them. We're trying to come up with multiple things to interest people when they come … Two years from now, they are going to see some significant changes to the grounds.”Regarding future projects, the businessman side of Kroes, said “We have to be careful though that we don't spend everything that we've been gifted right away. We want to leave some money in reserve for future boards that come along to leave some money for projects they may want to do.“In a nutshell, what I enjoy most [about volunteering at the museum] is seeing that I've impacted somebody in some fashion with what I'm doing,” he said. That includes the reactions of “young people who come through who may not understand history or not necessarily have an interest in history, but something in the museum trips a trigger, and they get interested. Also, the older folks that come in and something they see does the same sort of thing, recalls back a memory of their own, and then they have a story to tell.”
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