When Ken Barthelman originally moved to Newton in the third grade, he knew there was something he liked about this city.
After he moved away the second time, he knew that he wanted to make his way back to Newton someday. When he accepted the position as Executive Director of the Jasper County Historical Museum earlier this month, he found his way home for good.
“I’ve had a fascination with the area for a long, long time and have wanted to come back. I almost did 10 years ago, but my business then didn’t quite work out the way I wanted it to,” Barthelman said. “With my wife being retired, and I just got a small, little e-commerce business that I do … we thought this would be a good time to do it (move back).”
Barthelman has a background in working with nonprofits and in graphic design, but is new to working in museums. He is hoping that he can utilize the skills he has acquired over the years in his other jobs, and his own deep passions for Jasper County’s rich history, to help the museum grow in 2014.
“I have a collection of Jasper County and Newton stuff — in fact, I brought it all up and we are thinking about trying to do something with it outside of the building — and it’s all laid out in my duplex and it’s covering a good share of my living room on the floor,” Barthelman said.
Barthelman’s believes his enthusiasm and ideas helped him land this job and he shared one thought as to how to expand the museum’s reach in the community.
“One thing that we are trying to do — we have limited space — is something called a ‘pop-up museum,’” Barthelman said. “My thought is, we would try to work with one of the building owners downtown and get an empty building for a month and put up a display of things that aren’t in the museum. (Such as) my stuff and some other stuff and try to get people that are in town for Reunion Weekend or at the speedway to come there, see some things, get some information on the museum and maybe give them a dollar off coupon to the museum, just things to try and get them to come to the actual museum.”
Another big idea of his is more collaboration with other museums within Jasper County, some of which include Trainland USA, the Colfax Historical Museum, the Kellogg Historical Museum and the Wagaman Mill and Museum.
Barthelman also wants to get more locals to stop in and experience everything the museum has to offer, even if they have to implement a rain check type of system for patrons to complete their tour.
“I don’t know if (people) have a fear of the museum or think it’s going to be boring or what it is, but it’s not just dry stuff (here),” Barthelman said. “There are good stories about most of the things and we’ll try to tell a few when we do this pop-up thing. Just stories you wouldn’t think of about some of the manufactures in town and just vital information that they don’t know — that I didn’t know.”
Barthelman has a one-year contract as the museum’s full-time director and after the first year, he and the board will evaluate if it’s necessary for the position to remain full-time or if it should revert back to a part-time function.
Although he has been on the job for less than two weeks, Barthelman champions the museum’s cause of preserving Jasper County’s history for future generations and is fully vested in its success. He also believes the museum should be a key player in helping people discover more information about the city he loves.
“I just don’t know how people can ‘Get to know Newton’ without the museum,” Barthelman said.
Staff writer Ty Rushing may be contacted at (641) 792-3121, ext. 426, or at email@example.com.