SOUTH BEND - The Pacific County Historical Society Museum has announced its longtime director, Bruce Weilepp, has been laid off due to a budget shortfall. He was director of the museum for 14 years.
"We've been running at a loss for a long period of time and we can't continue that way," said Bud Cuffell, Pacific County commissioner and treasurer of the museum's board, of the decision to vacate Weilepp's position. "We'll be making changes in the way the operation is run and are hoping to find a part-time volunteer coordinator to keep the museum open. The tourist information portion of the museum is very important to us and is a source of income from the lodging tax."
Cuffell also said a concerted fundraising effort will be made. "We want to save the museum," he said. "The building is paid for."
Weilepp was a "longtime and loyal employee for 14 years and we regret the necessity to lay him off," Cuffell said. "It was not an impulsive decision and it all revolved around finances. We became increasingly aware over the past two months that the society could no longer continue to do business as usual. We needed to make some really severe cuts in our spending and the only avenue available to us was through cutting labor costs. Unfortunately, we were put in the position of laying off our director as he is our only paid employee. The only alternative was to close the museum."
Weilepp, 48, said that in the years he's been at the museum, the job has changed.
"I was originally hired to be the museum director," he said. "We were tight financially from the beginning and I had to get involved in fundraising more and more. It was pretty successful, but recently it's been in a precarious balance. It's impossible for one person to keep the museum going and do fundraising, too. It's a seven-day-a-week job."
The museum's "flagship program" is the Sou'Wester magazine, Weilepp said. "I said I'd be the interim editor six years ago, and I still am. The board has work to do to figure out how to separate the job into different parts. I sincerely hope the magazine will continue. That, with our Web site presence, are our future."
The society has been looking for property on which to construct a new building for 10 years and have purchased property in South Bend.
"It's a good site for the new museum," Weilepp said, "but moving dirt and pounding nails is taking longer than anyone anticipated."
The nature of his job has changed over the years, Weilepp said. "Expectations were zero when I came on board," he said. "But the quality of the content of the Sou'Wester is higher than it's ever been, especially reproduction of photos. It's a large part of what I do and has been the most enjoyable part of my job in past years. Part of what I hope I achieved was an integration of all the museum's programs. The geographic spread of the county makes it difficult to work together. The big change has been technology."
Weilepp says he'd like to continue with museum work after leaving the museum. He said he did museum contract work all over the state before coming to South Bend. "I'll probably go back to that," he said. "During 14 years I picked up a lot of research skills that should be useful. I'm by nature a jack-of-all-trades. I'll continue to consider opportunities. South Bend is a wonderful place to live if you can find a way to make a living. I'm a historian-for-hire at this point."