WINNETKA – Running the Winnetka Historical Society is a little bit like being a juggler, or so says Tane Beecham, who took over the helm of the organization six months ago.
“I love being here. One of the things I love about it is because there are a lot of disparate balls in the air at a time,” Beecham told DailyNorthShore.
Some of those balls include helping people research their families and homes, running educational programs and fundraising, as well as managing the two historical buildings the Historical Society owns, the museum and research center and the Schmidt-Burnham Log House.
“It seems to suit me really well. (It’s) a lot of variety,” Beecham said.
While Beecham inherited a tightly run organization from her predecessor Patti Van Cleave, who led the Historical Society for 10 years — overseeing the organization’s move from the Skokie School to its current location in a house built in 1857 — Beecham brings a wealth of new ideas an energy to the nonprofit.
“I really see what I can bring to the organization is new ideas of ways to tell our story, and share our collections which are truly amazing, in a different way,” Beecham said.
One of Beecham’s goals for the Historical is to reach young Winnetka families by offering more family friendly programming. She plans to expand partnerships with community organizations outside of the museum to bring the Historical Society to Winnetka residents.
“We have a very very rich history here and I would love to share that with people who have not been exposed to it yet,” Beecham said.
Over the summer, the Historical Society held a book club in collaboration with the Winnetka Public Library, where kids read Laura Ingalls Wilder’s classic story Little House in the Big Woods at the Schmidt Burnham Log House. “We discussed the book and brought things in from the house that highlighted prairie living,” Beecham said.
The Historical Society also partners with Winnetka schools throughout the school year for the third grade Pioneer Day, as well as a trolley tour for second grade students. In October, the Historical Society will be hosting an event called Winnetka’s Haunted History, which will share creepy aspects of the village’s history.
Right now Beecham is preparing for a World War I exhibit that will be opening in November. This exhibit will focus on what life was like for Winnetka residents during that time. While there will be an exhibit at the museum, the Historical Society will also take a traveling exhibit to various organizations throughout the community. The first three weeks the exhibit will be on display at the Winnetka Community House.
Beecham also has some other creative ways to expand the Historical Society’s reach in the 21st Century. Programming is now being promoted on social media. Beecham is also considering displaying a large costume exhibit online, since it’s too large to be displayed at the museum. “There are potentially other ways to get it into the public domain,” she said.
While Beecham confesses a love of history and research, she wasn’t always immersed in Winnetka’s history. Before moving to Winnetka 18 years ago to raise her family, Beecham worked for the city of Los Angeles on public policy and the environment. When she decided to take a job two years ago working for the Historical Society part-time as an administrator, she found her passion.
In addition to expanding programming, over the next 9 months Beecham will be overseeing a capital campaign to restore the Schmidt-Burnham Log house. Currently, an assessment is being completed to determine what type of work needs to be done.
Beecham believes that the role of the Historical Society is to protect and preserve Winnetka’s history for future generations. “If these stories and artifacts aren’t safeguarded they disappear and our culture is less rich for it,” she said.
And she believes that the Historical Society aids in the community’s deeper understanding of its culture. “I really think understanding history helps inform what happens in the future,” Beecham said.
The Winnetka Historical Society is located at 411 Linden Avenue, Winnetka and is open Tuesday, Thursday and every other Sunday 1:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m., or by appointment. For more information go to www.winnetkahistory.org.