Dowagiac Rotary awards Paul Harris FellowsPublished 7:47pm Thursday, July 18, 2013
It looked like Niles Day at Dowagiac Rotary Thursday as the club awarded two Paul Harris Fellows — to non-Rotarian Steve Arseneau of Niles for community service in moving Southwestern Michigan College’s museum into town and creating Dowagiac Area History Museum and to Cass District Library director and six-year secretary Jennifer Ray, a 1970 Niles graduate, for club service.
They are the 107th and 108th Paul Harris Fellows since Mayor Graham Woodhouse became the first in 1977. Each represents a $1,000 contribution — one by the club, which Richard Judd presented, and one by Barbara Groner.
As a fourth grade Wisconsin boy on a field trip to Milwaukee Public Museum, Arseneau, a former Dowagiac resident, fell in love with the idea of “caring for people’s treasures.”
His passion for museum work blossomed into a successful career.
He grew up in the Milwaukee area and studied American history at the University of Wisconsin-LaCrosse, focusing on 20th-century U.S. and Native American history.
He received his bachelor’s degree in American history and a master’s degree in public history from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.
In 1995, Arseneau entered graduate school at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee in the public history and museum studies programs, which allowed him to take classes at his childhood favorite, Milwaukee Public Museum.
For the practical experience needed to be curator of a museum, Arseneau had a part-time position at Waukesha County Historical Museum.
He also did an internship at Milwaukee Public Museum, identifying and caring for its sword collection.
Arseneau joined Southwestern Michigan College in June 1998 as curator of history and became director in January 2006.
Last year, he was named first director of the new Dowagiac Area History Museum, a joint venture between SMC and the City of Dowagiac accomplished in 10 months, Mayor Donald Lyons, himself a Paul Harris Fellow, said.
The Behnke family sold the building and the city set to work transforming it into a showpiece utilizing the collection the college amassed since 1967.
Arseneau’s career accomplishments include completely renovating the history gallery at the SMC museum, writing two books (“Identification and Dating of Round Oak Heating Stoves” and “Images of America: Dowagiac,” co-authored with former SMC museum director Ann Thompson), curating temporary exhibits on a wide array of local history topics, including, most recently, “Images of Dowagiac,” and completing overhauls of the museum’s collections storage facility and record-keeping system.
He co-authored a 2011 Michigan History magazine article on Webb Miller, an acclaimed journalist from the Sumnerville/Pokagon area and Dowagiac High School graduate.
According to Timothy Chester, president of the Michigan Humanities Council during the grand opening of DAHM in May, Arseneau is “highly regarded statewide in the museum community.”
He has been instrumental in amassing an impressive collection related to manufacturing, from Heddon lures to Round Oak stoves and many in-depth biographies of local sons and daughters who made their mark on the wider world, dating from the earliest years of settlement in this region by the Pokagon Band.
“Steve has the most amazing group of volunteers you could ever hope to have,” Lyons said, “and we give them due credit, but without Steve’s leadership, none of this would have happened.”
Through the assistance of those volunteers, he digitized the entire museum collection catalog, which less than 20 percent of museums can say they have accomplished, Chester said.
DAHM ranks in the top 3 percent of U.S. museums, including Henry Ford Museum at Greenfield Village, which have catalogs online in a searchable computer data base, Chester said.
SMC President Dr. David Mathews quoted Greek philosopher Heraclitus’ 500 B.C. observation that “the only thing that is constant is change. If it were not for change, there would be no need for museums. We’d be living in museums. Without change there would be no new friends, no new babies and no old things. Caring for, preserving and remembering those old things is really important. From its first year of existence, the college took on that responsibility of maintaining a collection of artifacts of local history. But museums, too, are part of the world and subject to change. We had to figure out a creative way to continue our commitment to preservation. We looked to the City of Dowagiac and it has been a wonderful partnership. Behind all that, we have to have people who know the history. The unique thing about Steve Arseneau is that he really, really likes that history, too. He’s not only a subject matter expert, but is passionate. What this community has in Steve Arseneau is not just someone whose expertise is recognized at the state level, but whose love for our history is well-known by everyone.”
He and his wife Christina have a son, Theodore.
Jennifer S. Ray
“She is a shining example of Rotary’s motto, ‘Service Above Self,’ ” Groner said. “Being club secretary carries responsibilities equal to being club president. Not only does she keep records for our club business meetings, she also is responsible for keeping club membership records current for our club, district and Rotary International. Then there is her willingness to provide and set up projection equipment for many of our programs — sometimes at very short notice.”
Groner recalled how Ray met her husband at Five-Mile Corner north of Dowagiac.
She became good friends in high school with Marsha, who attended a different Niles elementary. As newly-licensed drivers, the girls drove across the countryside, ending up at Lutz’s Drive-In, where they happened upon Marsha’s cousin, Terry Ray, of Decatur.
The Rays live on Jefferson Center Street, just east of Dailey Road. Terry is a retired truck driver and dock worker who now handles maintenance at Cass District Library.
They have two grown daughters. Holly followed in her mom’s footsteps and manages Cass District Library’s Mason branch. Jenna is a physician assistant in Catskill, N.Y.
Jennifer joined Cass District Library right after high school and enjoyed the work so much she enrolled in a new two-year SMC program which offered an associate degree as a library assistant.
Ray graduated from SMC and continued her studies at Indiana University South Bend, completing her bachelor’s degree in secondary education in 1991.
While at IUSB, she worked in the campus library. She became district media coordinator for Berrien Springs Public Schools and completed her IUSB master’s degree in 1993. She has directed Cass District Library since 2004.
Besides four professional organizations — including treasurer of the Southwest Michigan Library Cooperative — she is a member of Cass County Great Start Collaborative, which encourages positive learning experiences for 0-5-year-olds; past chair and member of Cass County Human Services Coordinating Council; secretary of the Cass and St. Joseph Counties Domestic and Sexual Assault Services (DASAS); and chairperson for the storytelling event at Dowagiac Dogwood Fine Arts Festival.
Ray also involves the library in projects at Cass County Council on Aging, where, once a week, she and Terry deliver Meals on Wheels.
Tim Wiggins has been with Cass District Library for 15 years.
“She has been my boss most of that time,” Wiggins said. “She is a fantastic person and I enjoy every day I have working with her. She goes above and beyond to help everybody. She doesn’t take no for an answer.”
“Cass County is a better place because you are here,” Groner said.