Last week founding members of Haviland Heritage toured and offered support to what is expected to be the future home of their long awaited museum.

Originally published in the Kiowa County Signal Oct. 10, 2012

Last week founding members of Haviland Heritage toured and offered support to what is expected to be the future home of their long awaited museum.

“This was always one of our goals,” said Rodney Hannan, “to start a museum.”

Hannan, Dolores Williams, Shari McAfee, Ed and Marlene Lofgren and founder Sheryl White, the group of residents who formed Haviland Heritage, a local historical society, in 2003, were in Haviland last Monday to donate a $2,000 check to Jerry and Linda Simmons.

The Simmons’ have begun renovating a former machine shop along U.S. 54 and are in the early stages of construction on the Heart of America Science Center, a faith-based science and education center, scheduled for a 2014 completion.

Haviland Heritage has been given an approximate 170 square foot space inside of the museum.

“Jerry loves history almost as much as he loves science,” said Mrs. Simmons. “It seems just natural to put the museum in the building.”

White helped found Haviland Heritage in 2003 while working on her doctorate degree at nearby Barclay College. She organized a small group of dedicated locals who wanted to “continue the values and principles Laura Haviland stood for in her life.”

Haviland, a devout Quaker and abolitionist, was a life-long crusader for freedom and equal rights between men and women and between people of different ethnic backgrounds.

Haviland and her husband opened The Raisin Institute in 1837, the first racially integrated school in Michigan.

She helped escaped slaves travel north to Canada, harboring many of them at her farm in Michigan, but she also frequently traveled to farms and plantations in the South to assist escape attempts. During reconstruction, following the Civil War, she fought for the integration of slaves into northern states.

While Haviland may never have visited the town that would, in 1886, become her namesake, she came to Kansas in 1879, purchasing a sizable farm and establishing a technical school for the 60,000 southern ex-slaves who had settled near Columbus.

“She was an amazing little spunky lady and I feel like her story has never really been tapped into,” said White.

Haviland Heritage had been a project created as part of White’s dissertation and the group sponsored historical reenactments, sold Haviland afghans and coins and was part of the Meteorite Festival in 2006 and 2007.

“I had to have goals in my project, that was a part of it,” said White. “It was a big project. I guess we extended it out from where it started. We even had lifetime memberships. I still have my little membership card. I think at one time we had more than 200 members.”
In 2006 White became the Director of Lay Ministries at the First United Methodist Church in Pratt, and left Haviland in 2007.

“We slowed down when Cheryl moved, she was the fire that kept us all going,” said Williams.

The group amassed nearly $2,000 in proceeds from membership fees, sales of memorial items and fundraisers.

When they heard about the Heart of America Center, and the space that had been designated for them, they decided that a donation was in order.

“It was in the bank, just sitting there, not doing anyone any good,” said Hannan.

 The Haviland Heritage room, along with a life-sized mastodon skeleton, will be the centerpieces of the museum’s main entrance.

Williams, who has been collecting historical items on behalf on Haviland Heritage, said she would like to see original editions of Haviland News as part of the exhibit, but what is be included is still undecided. All of the members agreed that they would like to see historical papers and memorabilia of early Haviland included.

Mr. Simmons said that the historical aspect of the museum would not be confined to a single room and that the history of the area would be an integral part of the museum overall.

“It’s part of the vision,” said Simmons. “We wanted to bring these two visions together. Bring the history of Haviland to our visitors and to the kids, it was just a natural fit. I think the lord has been holding that building for us.”

Duward Whitney, a longtime Haviland resident, donated his lapidary equipment for a new lab in the building. Lapidary is the transformation of rocks and stones into decorative items, commonly know as “rock tumbling.”

“We’ll probably call it the Whitney Lab,” said Simmons who reiterated that the donation was in keeping with the local historic archeology aesthetic of the soon-to-be educational facility. 

The Simmons say they are on track to have some classrooms and limited facilities open in spring 2013, with a full opening sometime in 2014.