Worth Museum has closed its doors

Photo by Joe Boyle


Clothes, signs and memorabilia were once found in the Worth Historical Museum that closed a month ago.

 

After serving 22 years as a valuable source for historical information, the Worth Historical Museum, located in the park district’s Terrace Centre, was officially closed on July 19.

Robert O’Shaughnessy, director of the Worth Parks and Recreation department, said the museum was closed by a vote of the district’s board of commissioners.

“The board’s decision was based on three major needs of the district at this time; a need for rental space, more office room and increased storage space,” said O’Shaughnessy. “Having additional space to rent for various events will help increase our revenue.”

O’Shaughnessy said he was presently contacting everyone who had donated historical items, documents and memorabilia to the museum, giving them the opportunity to pick up their items, if they wished.

“If they choose to leave them, we will store everything with the rest of the museum contents. We will store all remaining items in climate-controlled storage units in near-by storage facilities.

“Nothing will be thrown away. It is our hope that it will open again somewhere,” added O’Shaughnessy. “I have reached out to both the Worth Library and the school district to see if they could house the museum. Neither of them is able to take it on. I will be more than happy to talk to anyone; a business, or organization which may have the interest and the resources to care for the museum.”

In early July, The Reporter ran a story on the possible closing of the museum. At that time O’Shaughnessy stated that the district would like to get out of the management of the museum and move it to another location.

“The park district is not the best group to be running it as we are not in the museum business,” O’Shaughnessy said at the time. “We want it to stay in the community and ideally, we would love for a school, or library or a civic organization which might have room for it to take it over.”

Carol Hall, director of the Worth Public Library, spoke emotionally about the closing of the museum.

“It is very sad to see it close. A lot of love and work went into it.”

She referenced Colleen McElroy, who was curator of the museum for six years, prior to the position being eliminated in July 2016.

“She had such a love and passion for the history of the town and she worked very hard to preserve its story. Two years ago she authored a book, ‘The History of Worth,’ which was filled with wonderful pictures of the early days of the village and stories of the people who pioneered the creation of the town.”

The book is still available at the library. Hall said she wished the library had room for the museum.

“We just couldn’t handle it. We don’t have the room or the staff. A museum is a huge responsibility and it would need a curator.”

She added that she understands that the park district commissioners had a hard decision to make.

“The town has to take care of its own history,” she said, her voice breaking. “Hopefully, someone will come forward and say, “I can’t do all of it, but I will try to help.’”

When Dr. Rita Wojtylewski, superintendent of Worth School District 127 was contacted for this story, she said, “We can’t run a museum, but we would be happy to have pieces of it to display.”

She added that O’Shaughnessy had seemed receptive to the idea.

Wojtylewski was a little surprised that the park district had considered the school district as a possible location.

“A museum is open to the public and we simply could not risk hosting a facility open to the public. It would be a huge security risk,” Wojtylewski said.

She also pointed out that the school’s revenue comes from state and federal funds and property taxes. None of these entities can fund a museum.

“In addition to these reasons, our district is growing and we have no unoccupied school space,” Wojtylewski said.

“I am sad the museum is closed. Walking the kids down to the museum was one of our favorite field trips,” Wojtylewski said. “I don’t want our students to lose the connection to the past so we would be happy to have some of the framed historical documents and the written history of Worth to display in our schools.”

McElroy, also a former village trustee for eight years, also expressed hope that the valuable documents and memorabilia could be preserved.

“I can only hope that the park board and community will do their best to see that the items will not be lost, destroyed or forgotten. Generations of stories are held in the museum,” she said.

She added that the creation and maintenance of the museum was not done by just one person. It was done through a community of volunteers, spearheaded by a park district board.

Although the museum is not under the jurisdiction of the village, Mayor Mary Werner also expressed sadness at the closing of the museum.

“I believe the closing of the facility had been discussed for months by the park district and I feel comfortable that they looked at all possible options. It is unfortunate that no one can take it over at this time.”

O’Shaughnessy stated again that he is willing to talk to anyone who might have an interest, the resources or a plan for the future of the Worth Historical Museum. He can be reached at (708) 448-7080.

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