On a blustery fall day with gray rain clouds scudding overhead Thursday, 200 eighth graders from Athens Middle School toured the Ohio River and Campus Martius museums in Marietta.
The ability to have their lives enriched by an educational tour is one of the reasons members of Friends of the Museums have worked so hard the past three years to keep the doors open on both facilities.
Their efforts have succeeded.
SHARON BOPP The Marietta Times
Eighth-grade students from Athens Middle School eat their lunch inside the Campus Martius museum Thursday, before taking a tour of the museum.
"Things are booming, we are constantly busy," said Le Ann Hendershot, manager of the Ohio River and Campus Martius museums.
"We just keep adding more and more programs. We're excited because we're doing so well," she added.
Friends of the Museums is a nonprofit organization that is managing both the Ohio River Museum and the Campus Martius Museum on behalf of the Ohio Historical Society. The Friends organization took over after state budget cuts threatened to close the museums, as well as other state historical sites.
When Friends of the Museum took over the museums' operations on Oct. 1, 2009, a management committee was set up to do oversight.
As the committee neared its three-year mark earlier this year and the museums were faring well, committee members decided to convert to the format of a typical board.
One of the committee's early goals was to be self sustaining in three years.
"We are sustaining very nicely right now. We've had a very stable cash flow for three years," said Jean Yost, Friends of the Museum member.
Another early goal was to keep the museums open longer hours, a goal that was quickly implemented.
The Ohio River Museum "quadrupled" its hours, Yost said. Previously open on weekends from April through October, the riverside museum is now open six days a week April through Labor Day, and on weekends Labor Day through the end of October.
Campus Martius Museum, which had only been open four days a week for seven or eight months of the year and closed in the winter, now operates year round, six days a week.
Finances are also much improved at both museums.
Hendershot said when Friends of the Museums took over, the museums' "available funds were $3,000 to $5,000 in museum memberships."
Today, available funds are close to $140,000, she added.
The facilities' proposed budget for fiscal year 2013 (July 2012 to June 2013) is $304,665, compared to $273,403 for FY2012, Hendershot reported.
Efforts to increase gift shop sales have been met with success too.
"I would say (gift shop) sales have close to doubled in these last three years," said Hendershot.
Plans to open a downtown gift shop for the museums were tabled after the committee researched the idea.
"It looked like something that could fit but a lot of what we sell are books and gifts and we didn't want to be in competition with the downtown businesses," said Yost.
Attendance figures at the museums for the past three fiscal years have been on the rise.
In fiscal year 2010, Campus Martius had 7,933 visitors and the Ohio River Museum had 4,704.
For 2011 Campus Martius had 9,258 visitors and the Ohio River Museum 4,944.
Campus Martius had 10,768 visitors in fiscal year 2012 and the Ohio River Museum 5,979.
Under Friends of the Museums' management, the properties and exhibits were also cleaned up at both facilities.
"You need to do a facelift once in awhile," said Yost.
In-kind contributions from area businesses and plenty of volunteerism from citizens too have accounted for the success of Friends of the Museums' management efforts.
In-kind contributions including paint, nuts, bolts and landscaping have remained strong "through local cooperation" from companies like Greenleaf Landscaping, Discount Signs, Stonewall Marketing, Dave's Landscaping, Marietta Paint Company and Crescent Sprague, said Yost.
"We've had an increased level of community participation. Our volunteer level has been up tremendously," Yost said.
"It takes a tremendous amount of volunteers because we have such a small staff," he added.
The Friends of the Museums are working with interns from Marietta College, and have involved students from various schools in service projects.
"Dominion East Ohio gave close to 400 hours of employee (time) working around the museum," said Yost.
Yost estimated that 1,200 volunteer hours have been given toward restoration of the flat boat at Ohio River Museum, plus 300 to 400 hours for restoring the shanty boat there.
"The community has been willing to give sweat equity and give of themselves," said Yost.