Yesterday tended by today’s hands

Marion Area Historical Society turns 30

Charles Collier Leader Correspondent

Photo by Charles Collier Nick LeNoble and his son, Caleb, of Marion, share a passion for car restoration, and are putting their handiness to use with MAHS. Here, the two stand with “a poor man’s tractor” restored by Nick, in front of the Ray Arndt Historical Museum.

Photo by Charles Collier Mary Kautz, of Clintonville, flips through a condensed history of the Marion Area Historical Society during the group’s 30th anniversary celebration Saturday.

The Marion Area Historical Society celebrated its 30-year anniversary Saturday at the Ray Arndt Historical Museum on Ramsdell Road, casting the 125-member organization into dual roles as historical subject as well as documentarian.

The historical society has proven an exceptional example of the latter over the last three decades as shown by the expansive museum named after Ray Arndt, an ardent contributor and supporter of preserving the area’s past.

Arndt made headlines last year when he donated a more than 2,000-piece collection of old and antique tools, the oldest being a corn planter from 1863 during the throes of the Civil War. But the 100-year-old spitfire has been integral to Marion’s history since long before.

Gesturing toward a stuffed horse and display buggy carrying a mother and daughter in their Sunday best, Arndt recalled one of the last times he was at the reins inside such a carriage.

Sometime in the mid-1930s, Arndt yoked up a horse to make his way from a country home into Marion.

“I didn’t have any blinders on (the horse),” Arndt said, “And the top of the buggy was swinging back and forth. Well, that must have spooked her, because she just started running. You have no idea how fast a horse can actually go.”

That horse was never returned to the road, yet its stationary reflection stands at attention some 80 years later among the recreated storefronts and displays made to pull the minds of visitors back to yesteryear.

A Marion Motor Inc. worker tends to his station; a teacher’s desk is topped with riffled papers and attendance booklets; a general store displays large tins of chewing gum.

The exhibits are curated by volunteer members of the organization, which have done much work since the museum opened in 2009.

“We have a lot of dedicated people who are willing to help and who have spent a lot of time,” Arndt said. “We had help at the right time and were able to get it done.”

One such volunteer is Nick LeNoble of rural Marion. “I like anything old,” said LeNoble while giving a rundown his 1930 Model A Doodlebug, coined a “poor man’s tractor.”

“During the Great Depression, they needed to save metal so a lot of vehicles were modified,” he said, explaining the vehicle’s shortened body and compacted cabin. “It’s fun because a lot of people haven’t seen anything like this,” he said. “I try to keep [these kinds of things] like the old guys had it out of respect for them.”

Dan Brandenburg, 28-year Marion Area Historical Society president, said volunteers like LeNoble are exactly the kind of people the society is looking for.

“This guy is great. He never shies away from helping out, is always excited, keeps everyone smiling,” Brandenburg said, adding that it’s the dedication of volunteers, partnership with area businesses and financial support from patrons that has led to the society’s success.

With that success and the positive reviews since opening the free museum, the society now has more donated items than it can display. Arndt said the organizers have enough artifacts to fill another building, which it hopes to create. But the journey has its roadblocks.

“It’s hard to raise funds when we don’t charge anybody to visit,” Arndt said.

Brandenburg said the society that celebrates the past is looking forward to the future — whatever it might hold — and welcomes participation from the community.

“We’re a fun group of people, and it’s easy for everyone to work together,” Brandenburg said. “Nobody needs any special skills; everyone does what they can, and that’s always enough.”