McPherson: A man on a ‘historic’ mission

Published 12:00 am Friday, November 9, 2001

Features Editor

Sometimes a man takes as much pride in his colleagues as he does in his children.

Today, Milton McPherson is a mighty proud man on both accounts.

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McPherson spent 22 "happy and fruitful years" as a member of the history department at Troy State University and his three children, of whom he is especially proud, attended TSU – two are graduates.

So, when he recently agreed to serve as the chairman of the Pioneer Museum of Alabama annual membership drive, he looked first to his former colleagues at TSU and, early on, they have not disappointed him. In fact, they have made him proud.

The first 67 responses to his invitation to membership at the museum have netted 43 new memberships and initial response is from only about 12 percent of the contacts McPherson made at the university.

"So I am more than pleased by the positive response," he said. "The museum has many strong ties to TSU. Curran A. Farmer, founder of the museum, and his father taught for a total of nearly 50 years. Matthew Downer Pace, Farmer’s father-in-law, served TSU from 1891 to 1941 as professor, dean, interim president and as namesake of Pace-Riddle Field. Curran Farmer spent nearly every day from age 61 to 85, including Christmas Day, building and serving the museum. Those are strong ties to the museum, but sadly only five or six current

TSU employees were members – until now."

McPherson said he wanted to start "at home" with the membership drive because the TSU community members have never been contacted individually during previous membership drives – and the museum is poorer for it.

"The museum celebrates it 30th birthday this month and, for the first time, members of Phi Alpha Theta, the history honorary fraternity, have agreed, with the approval of the history department, to participate in the museum membership drive," McPherson said.

Individual membership are $20 and family memberships are $35. Memberships purchased now include the remaining weeks of 2001 as well as the year 2002.

"The museum has 17 separate historical structures, a covered bridge and about 18,000 artifacts," McPherson said. "Available funds limit the museum to only two full-time and one part-time employees. The museum’s modest endowment has been yielding substantially less income because of the depressed national economy.

"The current war against terrorism will very likely result in a sharply decreased number of out-of-town visitors whose paid admissions are a vital part of the museum’s operating funds.

"A crisis likely impends for the museum and its woefully inadequate staff in number unless we of Troy, TSU and Pike County help to find a fixed and reliable source of annual revenue for the museum. Memberships can be that reliable income."

McPherson said he has been accused of being an "Olympian optimist" and perhaps fairly so.

"A local cynic offered to bet we would not get 10 percent of the TSU community as members of the museum," McPherson said. "I bet him we would get 80 percent of TSU salaried, professional personnel to join. I would not mind losing a little bit of money, but to have my faith in my TSU colleagues dishonored would be hard to bear."

According to McPherson, the "good people of Troy" are paying about $303,000 per year to retire the bonds used to renovate TSU athletic facilities – which are also extensively utilized by the city.

"An overwhelming TSU response to the museum membership drive would be a wonderful quid pro quo

and an equally wonderful public relations coup for the TSU community and would virtually assure the success of the membership drive," he said. "However, the museum must also look to the residents of Troy and Pike County for its continued growth and success. That is why I am taking the invitation to membership to new heights."

From those high places, about

200 feet above the city and townscapes, McPherson will tether a balloon with a 10¢ sign dangling below.

"Ten cents," he said. "That’s what membership to the Pioneer Museum of Alabama costs a family. Ten cents a day. Where else can you go and what else can you do for 10 cents a day? There are so many activities and events at the museum and so many educational opportunities and for only a dime a day. It’s the best bargain anywhere and I want to encourage every Pike County resident to become a member. If we don’t support our museum we could, one day, lose it and what a tragedy that would be."