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Historical village’s first officers talk about the early days

By Staff | Dec 13, 2019

PHOTO PROVIDED Sanibel Historical Museum and Village Board Member Gayle Pence and past President Alex Werner.

The Sanibel Historical Museum and Village’s first president, Alex Werner, and first vice president, current Board Member Gayle Pence, spoke recently before a full house of volunteers to talk about “The Making of a 501(c)(3) – The Rebirth of the Village.”

Founded by Elinor Dormer, the museum opened in 1984, when the Rutland House was donated to the city of Sanibel. It cost $3,500 to move it from its location on Periwinkle Way to the village. By comparison, years later it cost $176,000 to move Shore Haven from the bay to the village.

For years the museum consisted of the one building and was originally open one day a week for three or four hours, eight months of the year. It was staffed by the Historical Preservation Committee members and a few docents. Today, the museum has more than 100 docents and is open five days a week, 10 months of the year.

The nonprofit, incorporated as the Sanibel Historical Museum and Village, is a partnership with the city, which owns the land on which the village sits, as well as the buildings and this contents. The nonprofit manages the museum.

“It was Sam Bailey who worked to form the village, get buildings moved and so on,” Werner said. “From 1992 through 2004, it was really established as a village, with restoration work done by the Hammerheads.”

A Docent Council was formed in 2005, led by its president and soon-to-be vice president.

“The council was a group of very dedicated women who had been running things for some time,” Pence said. “At the time, we were under the city’s Department of Recreation and worked with Helene Phillips and Jai Earle. Milbrey Rushworth did the displays.”

Once a month, Pence had to go the city council to make a report.

The devoted volunteer group would thoroughly clean the village in early September every year – curtains and all.

“Everyone bonded through these activities,” Pence said.

Admission to the museum at that time was by “requested donation” only. The first fundraiser, “Raise the Roof,” for the Schoolhouse made $28,405. Ninety-three people came out to the Sanctuary.

“More than anything, this event helped establish the museum’s feasibility and credibility,” she said.

It was then-Sanibel Mayor Carla Johnston who inquired about forming a nonprofit, which would enable the city to cut costs. Werner was to handle the business end, while Pence oversaw the volunteers and fundraisers. The first step was to incorporate with the Department of Agriculture in Tallahassee.

“That happened in 2007, after four or five hours of work every day for a couple of weeks, all done over the phone,” Werner said.

In November 2007, the Historical Village became a nonprofit. The first contract with the city was negotiated over breakfast at the Sanibel Caf, Werner said. The nonprofit is audited every year.

“We started with 40 members at $15 each,” Werner said.

The village now has about 400 members, with a membership income of over $61,000 last season.

Once the village became a nonprofit, it needed a paid staff. Today, the village employs an executive director, business manager, volunteer coordinator and a front desk assistant.

“Our staff works with the more than 100 volunteers to keep the museum running efficiently so our guests can have the best possible experience,” Executive Director Emilie Alfino said. “We’re so grateful to the people who came before us, the volunteers and the early officers and board members, who set us up for success. We work hard to continue their excellent example.”

For more information or to donate, visit www.sanibelmuseum.org or call 239-472-4648.