It started with a postcard in the mail and ended with a $5,000 grant to help the Neponset Historical Society make up for canceled fundraisers during the pandemic.
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“Last summer, my dad and I applied for a grant to help the Neponset Historical Society,” Jessica Seiden said, referring to a postcard the historical society received from nonprofit Illinois Humanities. .
Bowen, who is president of the Neponset Historical Society, asked his daughter, a graduate of Neponset High School and now a guidance counselor at Wethersfield Junior/Senior High School, to help him complete the grant application. Applicants were being sought for $1.4 million in funds to support organizations in communities hard hit by the COVID-19 pandemic.
The funds are intended to serve entities often bypassed by traditional funding streams due to their size, organizational capacity or geographic location. Illinois Humanities is a statewide nonprofit organization that, according to its website, “activates the humanities through free public programs, grants, and educational opportunities that foster thought, inspire conversation, build community, and build community engagement by providing free, high-quality humanities experiences throughout Illinois.”
Emergency relief and recovery grants were provided for general operations through the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) and funds from the National Endowment for the Humanities. Grants were awarded to 254 organizations in 72 counties across the state, including the Stark County Historical Society in Toulon and the public libraries of Wyanet and Walnut.
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The Neponset Historical Society operates a museum which serves the village of 475 people and the surrounding community. The all-volunteer group was formed in 1982 and in 2010 purchased the building where Dr. William Bertelsen invented the first hovercraft in the 1960s. Bertelsen, a doctor by profession and inventor in his spare time, was a pioneer in the field air-cushioned vehicles and was the inventor of the airmobile, believed to be the first hovercraft to transport a human on land and water.
“We usually hold fundraisers throughout the year to pay for bills, maintenance and upgrades,” Seiden said, “but because of the pandemic, these fundraisers couldn’t. take place and we felt we had to do something to help this local treasure of ours stay intact.”
Museum curator Adam Kelly said while they were unable to hold their normal hours or fundraisers on the Neponset Picnic Day and other events due to the lockdown of the COVID, they were able to open, on a limited basis, when health guidelines permitted, for visitors, some coming from as far away as Chicago and southern Illinois to donate items or research the family history.
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Kelly, who has read the society’s minutes dating back to the first meeting in 1982, said it was the first time they had applied for a grant.
“At that time, members thought local support was all they needed and that seeking outside support might have strings attached,” Kelly said.
Not so with the $5,000 grant the band received a few weeks ago. He said the money will pay for a new oven and some paintings and refreshments in the museum where their Bertelsen collection is being moved to a larger room. The grant will also help them recoup money paid for utilities over the past two years when none of their normal fundraising money was coming in.
“We are thrilled to invest in your continued work and efforts during this especially challenging time,” Mark Hellett, director of Illinois Humanities Grants Programs wrote in his email to the Neponset Group informing them that their request had been approved.
The museum, in downtown Neponset, resumes normal hours from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m. every Wednesday. Tours for schools, class reunions, clubs, organizations, families and individuals are available during these hours or by appointment by calling 309-854-2332.