Historic times at the museum

Michael Smith
The Greater Southwest Historical Museum on Thursday, April 19, 2020, 35 days after closing to visitors. Museum Director Admiral Wes Hull said only essential staff has entered the building since March 12 in an effort to slow the spread of COVID-19.

On the afternoon of March 12, Adm. Wes Hull looked through the visitor logs of the Greater Southwest Historical Museum and Ardmore Military Museum. The former NOAA engineer and current museum director had been following news of a new virus spreading unchecked around the world and noticed how many different states were in the log book.

One family that he remembered in particular had four children from Fort Worth, Texas. That family had also signed the guest book that day.

As spring break for schools across the country meant families were looking for things to do, the Ardmore museum was seeing a normal surge in visitors from around the country. But after getting support from museum board members later that day, Hull made the decision to put a sign on the museum doors announcing a temporary closure.

“Since it had been announced that people around Dallas/Fort Worth had been positive for the coronavirus, I said I’m not going to take a chance,” Hull said.

Over a month later, the Greater Southwest Historical Museum and Ardmore Military Museum both remain closed. Hull said only essential staff is allowed in the building to pay bills and maintain the displays and facilities. “Even though it’s only them they still sanitize all the doorknobs, everything coming in, wiping down the desktops,” he said.

Hull not only had visitors and staff to think about, but elderly volunteers as well. He said volunteers are safe and does not expect to lose any volunteers when the museum reopens.

Just when the museum will reopen remains unclear. So do the financial impacts of COVID-19 on the museum’s finances. The museum does not charge admission fees but does allow visitors to leave donations. Sales from the gift shop also help with revenue.

But a big part of the nonprofit museum’s revenue comes from investments made by a foundation. Hull said if the stock market does not do well, neither do the foundation’s investments.

“If the stock market doesn't come back, the base of money in that foundation won’t be sufficient to give us what we need,” Hull said. “I think we’re going to be fine, but it’s a total unknown right now.”

Groups like the Oklahoma Museums Association are helping museum directors like Hull manage finances during coronavirus-related closures. Advisors are also helping the museum secure financial assistance.

“There’s people out here looking at nonprofits, and they will be advising the foundations,” Hull said.

The museum has already applied for financial assistance under the federal CARES Act, a congressional effort to help small businesses and nonprofits with loans offered through the Small Business Association.

Even outside of the museum functions, Hull has already had to cancel events planned for the summer like American Legion baseball. Until things open up and return to some sense of normal, Hull plans to keep in touch with staff and volunteers, follow health recommendations, and monitor the financial effects of a pandemic.

“COVID-19 has affected more than people realize on the surface,” Hull said.