Letter from the ISHS Executive Director
Dear Friends of Illinois history,
I write to ask your help in securing the future of the Illinois State Historical Society. For the last 21 years it has been my job, and that of the Society's board of directors, to find the money it takes to operate a small, state-wide not-for-profit organization committed to fostering “awareness, understanding, research, preservation, and recognition of history in Illinois.” That challenge, in addition to running our state-wide historical markers program, publishing the bimonthly Illinois Heritage popular history magazine and the flagship Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society, as well as organizing our annual “Best of Illinois History” awards, Centennial Business Awards, and the Sesquicentennial Church Awards programs, would be ambitious with a full-time staff of six. That our full-time staff of two accomplishes what we do in twelve months is a wonder, if not a minor miracle. But we love what we do, and we trust that you value that commitment.
The Society has operated independent of any state funding for twenty-five years. That independence was the result of one large bequest from King V. Hostick in 1993 (which we, by court order, had to split with the state of Illinois). In 1997, the Society broke off with the state, simply because that relationship had become toxic, and the Society, which has existed since 1899, was threatened with dissolution by redundancy. Since that time, the agency that threatened us with dissolution has been dismantled, historic sites are underfunded and in serious need of help, and the once nationally recognized Illinois State Historical Library has been rebranded as the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum, the word “Illinois” noticeably absent from its title. That omission gives the Society much to ponder.
Since 1899, our roll in the Illinois history community has been to promote and present Illinois history, not just around the state, but around the world, and to do that work on a very limited budget. What we accomplish, I believe, will astonish you. Take a moment to visit our website at www.historyillinois.org to see the myriad of tasks our staff, directors, and volunteers get done over the course of a single year. For example, we recently received a grant to help us include the narratives of forgotten voices in Illinois history through our historical markers program. More than 25 new markers telling the stories of unsung Illinois heroes–women, African-Americans, Native Americans, and others–will be unveiled over the next three years from Carbondale to Waukegan, Chicago to Belleville. This initiative is in addition to our already robust historical markers program. We've also begun hosting cemetery restoration workshops around the state, encouraging communities to clean up their community graveyards using best practices for restoration and repair.
Of course, if you are a member of the Society, you already know about our publications, Illinois Heritage and the Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society. We are blessed to have excellent editors, writers, photographers, and designers to help us make these publications the best they can be.
Unfortunately, maintaining and keeping the Society operating at the level we have achieved over the last two decades has been a challenge for our endowment, which needs attention. We are slowly building our Third Century Fund, but we certainly could use a sizable infusion of new money. Perhaps I am kidding myself in thinking that there is a donor out there such as King V. Hostick, who could conceivably recharge the Society for another twenty-five years and help us prepare for what the future holds. I'm not holding my breath. But I would very much like to think that someone in our audience recognizes the Society for what it does and sees its mission as worthy of significant support.
If you are such a person, or know of such a person, I would love to hear from you. Of course, any gift of any size for the Illinois State Historical Society's endowment will be appreciated. You are the future of the ISHS. Please make Illinois history part of your legacy to the Prairie State.
Thanks and very best wishes,