Chesterton Tribune

 

 

'Well deserved' raise for Porter County museum director

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By JEFF SCHULTZ

Porter County Museum of History Executive Director Kevin Pazour is here to stay as the County Council agreed to bump his salary to $40,000.

That’s an increase of $8,000 over the previous salary, which the Museum Board of Trustees felt was too low in light of Pazour’s work the past four years, breathing new life into the Old Jail Museum and making it an award-winning destination.

Raises have been a point of contention among the Council due to financial constraints and Pazour’s has been fought hard for by the County Commissioners, who have pointed out he is the lowest paid department head in the County.

But that changed Tuesday when the Council members, by a 6-1 vote, agreed that the $1,000 pay cut to their salaries made voluntarily during this fall’s 2014 budget hearings would be used for Pazour’s increase, plus another $1,000 from the General Fund.

Prior to the vote, Museum trustee and Chesterton attorney Bob Welsh formally made the salary request while fifteen museum volunteers and supporters sat in the audience.

Welsh said the jail museum for years had been simply “a collection of artifacts” and when Pazour was appointed in 2008 that began to change.

Pazour, guided by his trustees which form the Porter County Heritage Foundation, has overseen many renovations and exhibits that have vastly enhanced the interactivity for the visitor.

The current exhibits “We are Porter County” and “Prehistoric Porter County” use a mixture of stories, pictures, activities, audio and video components to convey the history right here in Porter County, an approach many modern museums have followed.

Welsh drew attention to the fact that the museum has focused on telling the story of all of Porter County in understanding why each community is unique. The “Stories Project,” launched earlier this year, tells the history of a different community in each installment using oral-histories from residents. This year featured downtown Valparaiso’s central neighborhood and next spring will an exhibit will highlight the history of Ogden Dunes with collaboration from the Historical Society of Ogden Dunes.

“We now have the capacity to do something that needed to be done for a long time, expanding the museum to everyone in the county,” Welsh said.

The Stories Project was named History Project of the Year by the Indiana Historical Society, Welsh said. Included in the museum’s list of accolades since Pazour took the helm is the 2011 Attraction of the Year ROSE Award from Indiana Dunes Tourism.

Welsh said Pazour’s accomplishments have “not gone unnoticed.” He has received offers from museums in both Chicago and Indianapolis with higher salaries, Welsh said, but Pazour would like to continue here.

Museum directors in other counties have salaries ranging from $60,000 to $85,000 and Welsh said the County is getting “a bargain” having Pazour.

“With somebody as talented as Kevin, we have been able to convey to our families of Porter County the history of their ancestors and predecessors,” Welsh said. “It’s taken a whole lot to get to this point. We didn’t get here by accident.”

Making the motion to honor the request and give the portion of Council members’ salaries to Pazour was Council member Jim Biggs, R-1st, who has been one the Council’s harsher critics of raises in the past.

But after taking a look at Pazour’s accomplishments, Biggs felt a raise was “well-deserved.”

Council member Jim Polarek, R-4th, gave kudos to Pazour after touring the museum with his son’s Cub Scout group, “You did an excellent job,” Polarek said.

Council member Karen Conover, R-3rd, complimented Welsh on a well-made request. “I wish I had you writing my speeches, Bob,” she said.

The sole “no” vote was from Council member Jeremy Rivas, D-2nd, who said he still had concerns about giving a salary raise while the County is facing large budget troubles.

Pazour told the Tribune he “did not expect” the raise and was “humbled” by it.

“I will work to continue to make (the Council) proud and develop a museum that all of Porter County can be proud of,” he said, crediting his success to his team of volunteers.

The museum is looking to expand to the former Valparaiso Police Department across from the County Courthouse but will still maintain a presence in the old jail building, Pazour said.

A strategic plan for the new location is set to begin in January.

 

 

Posted 11/29/2013