Archive for Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Building bequest benefits historical society

February 14, 2007

Don't let a good thing die.

It's an idea several people had in mind for the Basehor Historical Society Museum -- including the late Bob Wiley.

An involved citizen and friend to many, Wiley died in November 2006, but not before delivering several messages to his loved ones.

"Bob and I were both involved in the historical society," Wiley's widow, Lela Wiley, said. "When he knew he was dying, he told me to not let the museum fail."

The Basehor Historical Society was formed in 1984 and the buzz of building a museum began in 1996. Ray and Ann Breuer donated a 10-acre tract of land to the historical society at 158th Street and Parallel Road, and a groundbreaking ceremony was held in Oct. 1999. Plans for the museum were even drawn up, and a monument was erected at the groundbreaking site, but funds for the almost $2 million, 37,000-square-foot project have not exactly been pouring in since then. The fundraisers, donations and grants the historical society relies on have raised small amounts of money here and there, but, without an actual home base, it has been a constant uphill battle to obtain the funds.

Recently, Lela Wiley decided to honor one of her late husband's wishes and gave the historical society a boost by donating a building that could be used as a temporary home.

"The kids and I talked it over and we decided that we would donate the building to them and that way it would give them a start," she said. "At least we could have a museum open."

The Wileys have owned the building on 155th Street south of Leavenworth Road since 1973. It was once home to Lela Wiley's silk flower shop and, most recently, the Basehor Community Library. It seems fitting that the building will now be the temporary home of the Basehor Historical Society because the building itself has a historical tale to tell.

Lela Wiley said the land the building stands on has been registered since the 1860s. The building's abstract reveals that it was once owned by Native Americans in the area, the Union Pacific Railroad and even Ephraim Basehor himself, who founded the city of Basehor in 1889.

"It has a lot of history behind it," she said. "The abstract is very interesting to read."

While news of the temporary home is fairly new, it has traveled fast. Artifacts have already been donated, and a few substantial monetary donations have also been made. One of those donations came from Bill and June Beaver.

"Lela and her family donated the building to the historical society," Bill Beaver said. "We knew it was going to require quite a bit of work for it to be ready to be used, so we donated the money."

According to Beaver, the Neu family also made a donation. Wes Neu is the current chairman of the Basehor Historical Society, and his late wife Gloria, who died in Feb. 2002, always had the dream of creating a historical society museum for Basehor, Beaver said.

"The whole Neu family -- they've been hard workers -- and we've worked with them to try to come up with various projects and ways to raise money," Beaver said. "We donated in honor of her (Gloria) because it was her dream."

With the donated building, historical society members hope to coax more grant money. The lack of an actual building is something members believe has been holding them back. They also hope that now that the future of the Basehor Historical Society Museum has recently become a bit brighter, others in the community will want to donate to help make the museum a reality.

"Part of what my wife and I did was try to encourage some of the other people in the community to step up and do something," Beaver said. "Up to this point, not too many have been willing to step forward, but I have heard of others that are interested."

Basehor Historical Society President Jeral Cooper said that the organization has not yet set a completion date for remodeling the building but that he hopes to start working on it immediately. The society is in the process of getting bids from contractors to do the plumbing, heating and electricity. Historical society members and others will be pitching in to do the rest. Cooper said that members are elated to finally have a place to call home and are starting to see "some light at the end of the tunnel."

"People said they had things they wanted to give to the museum," Lela Wiley said. "Now there will be a building with historical things in it and that will encourage people too. That was my and my family's way of keeping it going."

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