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Historical society is optimistic looking forward

SOHS sets the stage for expansion after years of financial uncertainty
 Posted: 2:00 AM January 15, 2013

After a tumultuous financial period, the Southern Oregon Historical Society now is on a better footing and is preparing for some expansion efforts this year.

"We've come off the wild ride," said Executive Director Robert Esterlein. "We've survived the downward spiral."

SOHS is by no means flush, but its annual budget of $450,000 pays the bills, which includes a full-time staff of three people and a part-time staff of eight. The society also relies on 150 to 200 volunteers.

Esterlein, who was hired a year ago, said SOHS has sold off artifacts not related to Southern Oregon that have helped pay for preservation of its extensive collection.

In 2007, Jackson County support for SOHS ended, taking with it much of the organization's funding.

SOHS's financial position improved when the city of Jacksonville took over four historical buildings that had deferred maintenance costs totaling about $200,000, Esterlein said.

A $600,000 line of credit was due in December, but Alan DeBoer, who provided the money to help SOHS recover financially, extended the due date another two years.

"My intention was to help them and to move them through a tough period of time," said DeBoer, an Ashland car dealer and former Ashland mayor who is on the 15-member SOHS board.

DeBoer said SOHS did manage to bring the amount owed down to $550,000. He said SOHS could tap into the line of credit for additional funds if needed.

He said expenses have been reduced markedly in the past few years, and he sees a clearer direction for the 37-acre Hanley Farm and the downtown library housed in the former JCPenney building on Central Avenue.

More work needs to be done to increase the donor base and to secure additional grants, DeBoer said.

SOHS has been working with local farmers to make Hanley Farm a working farm, complete with a roadside stand.

Esterlein said a long-range goal is to make Hanley Farm more suited to events, including the installation of a full-scale catering kitchen.

Instead of just a seasonal facility, the historical farm could eventually attract year-round events and educational opportunities, Esterlein said.

Hanley's barn is in good condition, but Esterlein said it needs to be upgraded to offer more opportunities for public events year round.

SOHS hopes to increase its offerings in the coming years while remaining mindful of its limited funding.

"We pay the bills, and we are stable financially," Esterlein said.

Reach Mail Tribune reporter Damian Mann at 541-776-4476, or email

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