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Community history is about people understanding the roots of their area and creating new culture

A community is the sum of its shared history, so in an age when information is created, shared, has trended and is forgotten in a matter of minutes, museums represent something different.

“What makes local history important is that people who are living in the community today — that they understand what the roots of their community are all about, and it’s very distinct from one community to the next,” Bill Firstenberger, executive director of Ruthmere Museums Campus, said in an interview. “We’re a place that reminds the residents and visitors to our community what we’re all about: both good and bad, but hopefully mostly good.”

The museum is renewing its efforts to preserve and promote local history and the arts when it opens its doors for the 2016 season at 7 p.m. April 1 with a free concert underwritten by 1st Source Bank.

The concert will feature a 1938 Baldwin baby grand piano the Deputy family recently gifted to the museum. The instrument resided in the mansion previously when the Deputy family owned the home in the mid-20th century.

Chupp’s Piano of New Paris restored the baby grand, and company employees will perform at the concert.

The message of remembering the past is clearly resonating.

Last year, the organization reached 28,000 people between those who came in visited the campus’s three sites and individuals involved in outreach programs. The figure was up from 3,000 visitors six years ago.

The campus is a in a good position to emphasize history: Albert and Elizabeth Beardsley built the mansion in 1910, and it has served as a museum since 1973. The Havilah Beardsley House, another building in the museums campus, was built in 1848 by Albert Beardsley’s uncle. The Ruthmere Foundation purchased the house in 2007 and restored it with the intent of preserving history and improving the present.

“Over the course of the last probably 30 years or so, the downtown neighborhoods had suffered what is pretty common among many downtowns across the Midwest. There were just some areas that really needed some additional attention and help to make them places people wanted to live,” Firstenberger said. “We see the Ruthmere campus as part of the making Elkhart a vibrant place.”

The executive director is excited about other programs the campus is staging.

For the first time, the museum will be hosting Summer Thursdays at Ruthmere concerts from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m. every Thursday in June, July and August at the mansion’s piazza. The events are free, open to the public and will feature 25 different musicians through the summer.

Firstenberger hopes to draw an after-work crowd and create “a family friendly, bring a lawn chair, bring your lawn blanket type of environment.”

The organization previously had concerts on Saturday mornings called Coffee on the Piazza. It will continue to be hosted from 10 a.m. to noon every Saturday in June, July and August on the piazza, but without live music. It will feature coffee from Electric Brew and board games from Secret Door Games.

“Ruthmere is being identified by the community as a real central hub for arts culture and engaging programs for the community, and we just want to continue to build upon that,” Firstenberger said.

Ruthmere begins its regular season on April 3 with Free Family Sundays. The events provide free admission to one of the campus’s historic sites on the first Sunday of each month from April through November.

Along with its new endeavors, the campus will continue to educate the public about local history and the arts through its regular tours, as it has for years. The organization will offer guided tours of the mansion and Havilah Beardsley House from Tuesday through Saturday starting April 1.

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