The Museum Guild

Regardless of size, one of the most difficult things for any nonprofit organization to do is to meet all of its operational needs within the limitations of a reasonable budget. There is always more to do than can be done.

That was especially true for The Children’s Museum in its early years when the staff consisted of director Arthur Carr and his assistant Grace Golden. They had to handle everything—cataloguing and labeling an ever-growing collection, designing and mounting exhibits, giving tours, planning and presenting public programs, writing and distributing press materials, maintaining financial records, corresponding with donors, educators, and other museums, and keeping the museum and its contents clean and in good repair. They needed help, but there were no funds to hire additional staff.

The Guild Begins

Members of the Guild on the veranda of Parry House, about 1947.

At the suggestion of board trustee Herman Wolff, a few reliable, well-connected young women were contacted in late 1933 about volunteering their time and energy to benefit the museum. They agreed and so was born The Children’s Museum Guild, the name the new group chose for itself.

It was actually the second group to use that name. From 1927 to 1928 another women’s group, which was not formally affiliated with museum, had called itself The Children’s Museum Guild. Fearing confusion if both organizations tried to raise money at the same time, the museum’s board asked the group to drop the name.

The new Guild’s first official roster, published in the spring of 1934, listed eight names; Joanne Disette was its designated chairwoman. Taking its cue from the city’s other successful women’s organizations—at the time Indianapolis had a bevy of them ranging from the Indianapolis Woman’s Club and the Junior League to The Propylaeum and the local chapter of the League of Women Voters—the Guild formalized its operations and began holding regular meetings.

In the book A Museum Story, written to commemorate the museum’s 15th anniversary, author and board trustee Faye Henley identified the Guild’s organizing principles:

  • To promote interest in the museum.
  • To sponsor activities relating to visual education.
  • To raise funds to further their activities.
  • To provide volunteer workers to assist the museum.

Rosemary Sisson Sutton joined the Guild shortly after its founding and was elected its first president in 1934. By 1936 the Guild’s membership had tripled, with a dozen names each on the roster of both the original group and a branch formed in Irvington, a small community five miles east of downtown Indianapolis. Members of the two groups—which eventually consolidated into a single organization—helped with tasks ranging from maintaining the museum’s membership rolls and donation records to greeting visitors and leading tours.

“Today it is one of the pleasantest things about the museum to be met at the door by one of these Guild members who is ready to serve you as a guide through the museum,” wrote Henley in A Museum Story.

Fundraisers

One of the Children’s Museum Guild’s most popular projects was the Craft Club, which sold kits that allowed children to create such things as the Japanese carp banner shown here.

In addition to helping with the museum’s day-to-day tasks, the Guild became one of its earliest fundraising arms. Unlike its predecessor, it always made clear the fact that it was raising money for the museum itself and not the Guild, which paid for its operations through membership dues.

Its first big success came in the form of an annual glass and china show, held at the L. S. Ayres department store. A downtown landmark at the intersection of Meridian and Washington streets, the store offered the museum and the Guild a high-visibility location with a prosperous clientele. The first show in 1936 was a hit, raising both the museum’s profile in the community and much-needed funds for its coffers.

While the glass and china show continued for several years (records are unclear as to exactly when it was discontinued, though it was probably around the time the United States entered World War II), the Guild sought other ways to contribute to the museum’s ongoing need for additional funds. In November 1946 it hosted the first of what would become another annual event—the Children’s Museum Guild dance. Held at another venerable venue, the Indianapolis Athletic Club, the first dance raised $1,000—a respectable amount at a time when the city (and the country) was just beginning to recover from the austerity imposed by World War II. The dance became a regular fixture on the city’s social calendar, adding thousands of dollars to the museum’s coffers over the course of the next 43 years. According to Guild records, the last dance was held in 1989.

The next big idea came in the form of a style show. Held for the first time Sept. 13 and 14, 1949, at the Woodstock Club, it too became an annual calendar entry for the next 20 years. During that time such renowned designers as Mr. Blackwell (Richard Selzer), Helen Rose, and Geoffrey Beene brought pieces from their collections to Indianapolis for runway shows open to the public. Proceeds from ticket sales benefited the museum.

Finally in 1957 came the Craft Club. Inspired by a Native American sand painting on display at the museum to create a related activity for her children, member Jo Keller suggested her Guild colleagues design, make, and package museum-related craft kits that youngsters could use at home. Among the early productions were a Japanese carp banner, a Chinese shadow puppet, an Italian Christmas tree, and a Mexican festival mask.

The Craft Club concept was a popular success and attracted national press attention. But while the kits sold well, the time and energy invested in them never produced the financial windfall the Guild had expected. After less than two years in operation, the Guild sold its remaining stock of kits to a children’s magazine, which used them as gifts for new subscribers.

But the Guild’s fundraising pièce de résistance debuted in October 1964 when its first Haunted House opened to the public. Admission was 50 cents and within hours of opening, there were lines snaking down the sidewalk and around the corner from the Dreyer Building, which had been converted into a warren of rooms filled with scary characters and scream-inducing sights. After 10 days in operation, the Haunted House had raised an astonishing $13,200 for the museum—and it had proven its value. Within a few years it was a Halloween fixture in Indianapolis, and the Guild’s primary fundraiser, eventually replacing both the fashion show and the annual dance. As of 2016, the Guild had donated more than $11.9 million in Haunted House proceeds to the museum since 1964 and it had become the nation's longest continually running haunted house.

The Book Project

Executive director Peter Sterling with former Guild president Sue Ellen Walker (1979–80) at a Children’s Museum Guild function in 1983.

In 2000 the Guild undertook a new effort on behalf of the museum—a book publishing project that promised to produce six books over a period of 10 years. Funded entirely by the Guild, the books are, for the most part, donated to various individuals and organizations as a children’s literacy outreach effort.

The first book, Carousel to the Stars, written by the then-head of the museum’s theater program Stuart Lowry and illustrated by local artist Andrea Eberbach, was released in conjunction with the opening of the exhibit Carousel Wishes and Dreams in December 2000. A fanciful tale about one of the museum’s most iconic objects—the Carousel on Level Four—it was a high-profile beginning for the book project.

The intention to produce a book every two years was altered when the creation and publication of the second book was delayed until 2003. But it was worth the wait. The Mystery of the Grindlecat, written by local children’s author Valiska Gregory and illustrated by Claire Ewart, told a tale of three children and their experiences in the Guild’s annual Haunted House. It was released in 2003.

The third book followed soon after. Bucky the Dinosaur Cowboy, published in 2004, was tied to the opening of the museum’s innovative exhibit Dinosphere: Now You’re in Their World that same year. Written by Kay Cunningham, who was then the museum’s vice president of education and experience development, and illustrated by Mary Ann Wilson, the book was loosely based on the life of dinosaur hunter Bucky Derflinger, who was 20 years old when he discovered the skeleton of a teenaged Tyrannosaurus rex specimen near Faith, South Dakota in 1998. The youngest person ever to discover a T. rex, Derflinger was honored further when the skeleton was named “Bucky.” Not only could visitors see the young T. rex on display in Dinosphere, with Cunningham’s book they could take home the story of its discovery.

In 2006 the Guild project resulted in the publication of Martimus at Midnight by Alina B. Klein, with illustrations by Joy Allen. A magical story about the museum’s polar bear Martimus and other objects on display, all of which come alive at midnight and spend the wee hours playing.

Following that book the Guild took a break, with the fifth book not coming until 2010 when Reuben Rides the Rails, written by B.G. McLaughin and illustrated by Jennifer Zivoin, was released. Telling the story of the museum’s historic locomotive the Reuben Wells, it should have marked the end of the decade-long project, but because of the four-year gap between books four and five, the Guild still had one more book left to fulfill its commitment.

Wanting to mark the end of the book project in the best possible way, the Guild chose Seattle-based author-illustrator John Skewes for its final volume. Skewes, the author of 14 previous titles in the Larry Gets Lost series about a dog who strays from the side of his human pal Pete wherever they go, agreed to create a book titled Larry Gets Lost at the Museum, which was released in August 2013.

All of the books in the series are available in the museum’s store, as well as in infoZone, the public library branch located at the top of the Welcome Center ramp.

Volunteer Assistance

Members of The Children’s Museum Guild donate 35,000 to the Haunted House and other projects each year. The Guild has donated more than $9 million in Haunted House proceeds to the museum since 1964.

From the beginning, the museum viewed its primary role as being a supplementary source of education for its visitors. And the Guild has long been instrumental in helping fulfill that role, first by helping museum staff create educational materials loaned to school classrooms, then as trained docents who visited schools to talk about those materials and their relationship to the museum’s collections and exhibits.

Never was the Guild more needed than in the months following the opening the museum’s new building in October 1976. Between then and the end of the year, 200 Guild members provided 700 hours a week in volunteer services to help the museum cope with the crowds and new demands. They helped staff exhibits, record new memberships (which soared from 1,156 in 1975 to 4,426 by the end of 1976), address mass mailings, serve as docents and event hostesses, and handle assorted clerical duties. Some Guild members helped stock and staff the museum’s new gift shop while others underwent special training to serve as guides for groups wanting to tour the new five-story facility. The Guild’s speaker’s bureau also helped raise awareness of the museum.

Today the Guild’s efforts on behalf of the museum continue through hospital outreach and children’s literacy outreach programs. Its volunteers also continue to work as docents for exhibits and museum-sponsored programs. Overall, the Guild regularly provides more than 35,000 volunteer hours to the museum each year.

Leadership

Since 1934 the Guild has had 82 presidents. The following is a list complete through 2016–17.

1934–35 Rosemary Sisson Sutton

1935–36 Rosemary Sisson Sutton

1936–37 Marge Rocap

1937–38 Catherine Lapenta

1938–39 Katie Wardrope

1939–40 Louise Todd Seifert

1940-41 Jane Baxter

1941–42 Helen Alexander Dougherty

1942–43 Anna Lou Jose

1943–44 LaVonne Gable

1944–45 Mary Schwitzer

1945–46 Lois Breeze

1946–47 Isabelle Troyer

1947–48 Virginia Gruen

1948–49 Peg Hiser

1949–50 Deedy Coble Roggie

1950–51 Margaret Kinnear

1951–52 Cosette Blackburn

1952–53 Jean Woolling

1953–54 Betty Schaab

1954–55 Lou Ramey

1955–56 Mildred Compton*

* The only Guild president to later become museum director (1964-82).

1956–57 Josephine Keller

1957–58 Patty Steck

1958–59 Margaret Clark

1959–60 Lois Creekmore

1960–61 Ruth Brewer

1961–62 Marcia Mussman

1962–63 Polly Jontz Lennon*

* She later became the museum’s public relations and development director, then director of local living history museum Conner Prairie Pioneer Settlement.

1963–64 Pat Katterjohn

1964–65 Dodie Kappes

1965–66 Paula Gable

1966–67 Jean Turner

1967–68 Ellen Retterer

1968–69 Rosemary Gatewood

1969–70 Gloria Blake

1970–71 Frances French

1971–72 Shirley Cline

1972–73 Judy Hamilton

1973–74 Ann Bond

1974–75 Anne James

1975–76 Katie McKinney

1976–77 Diana Davis

1977–78 Muffi James

1978–79 Phyllis Geeslin

1979–80 Sue Ellen Walker

1980–81 Susie Sogard

1981–82 Jane Sweet

1982–83 Susie Hazelett

1983–84 Euna Pittman

1984–85 Sandy Wetzel

1985–86 Kathy Durkott

1986–87 Bonnie Rettig

1987–88 Kaye Diener

1988–89 Cathy Hurst

1989–90 Janice Montross

1990–91 Maddie Linder

1991–92 Debi Loehrer

1992–93 Janet Belden

1993–94 Amy Flynn

1994–95 Dori Dodson

1995–96 Joan DeFabis

1996–97 Jana Wiley

1997–98 Lucy Gonso

1998–99 Mary Claire Chapman

1999–2000 Laura Villanyi

2000–01 Lisa Sprunger

2001–02 Susan Frenzel

2002–03 Kathleen Eckrich

2003–04 Elizabeth Cooke

2004–05 Judi Morrisson

2005–06 Jerri Ramsey

2006–07 Patsy Skelton

2007–08 Betsy Grocki

2008–09 Betsy Biederstedt

2009–10 Carrie Cowan

2010–11 Theresa Patterson

2011–12 Anne Steinberg

2012–13 Melanie Fitzgerald

2013–14 Allison Stitle

2014-15 Allison Steck

2015-16 Heather Bice

2016-17 Chris Froberg