Historical Village’s First Officers Recount Early Days of the Village

provided to Santiva Chronicle

Galye Pence and Alex Werner

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

The museum, founded by Elinor Dormer, 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 that 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 501(c)(3), incorporated as the Sanibel Historical Museum & Village, is a partnership with the city of Sanibel, which owns the land on which the village sits, as well as the buildings and their contents. The nonprofit manages the museum.

“It was Sam Bailey who worked to form the village, get buildings moved, and so on,” said Alex Werner, the nonprofit’s first president. “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 board vice president, Gayle Pence. “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 – in other words, it was free. The first fundraiser, “Raise the Roof,” for the Schoolhouse, made $28,405. Ninety-three people came to the Sanctuary. “More than anything, this event helped establish the museum’s feasibility and credibility,” Pence added.

It was then-mayor Carla Johnston who inquired about forming a 501(c)(3). This would enable the city to cut costs. Werner was to handle the business end, while Pence handled the volunteers and fundraisers.

The first step was to incorporate under 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 explained.

In November of 2007, the Historical Village became a 501(c)(3). The first contract with the city was negotiated over breakfast at the Sanibel Café, 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 membership income of more than $61,000 last season.

Once the village became a 501(c)(3), it needed a paid staff. Today the village employs an executive director, a business manager, a 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,” said Executive Director Emilie Alfino. “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.”

The Sanibel Historical Museum and Village is a nonprofit organization formed with the mission to preserve, share, and celebrate Sanibel’s history. The museum will remain open during the BIG ARTS construction project, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays. The traditional entrance to the village is open, and there is adequate parking available. There is handicap access to the buildings. Admission is $10 for adults over 18. Members and children are free. For more information or to make a donation, visit http://www.sanibelmuseum.org or call (239) 472-4648 during business hours.

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