ILLINOIS HERITAGE 3
High Mileage Gifts
In the shoestring financial world of non-profit historical organizations, success is neither formulaic nor assured. And expenses are like a beard—they have to be trimmed regularly and judiciously. I learned those lessons anew recently when I visited the museum on the grounds of the former Shell Oil Refinery near Wood River, Illinois. Ollie Schwallenstecker, the museum's co-founder and manager, proudly showed me the site's prize new acquisition—the car that had won Shell's 1951 mileage marathon.
"Its owner offered to sell the car to us several years ago," said Ollie. "It's beautifully restored. But we couldn't afford it. Recently, though, the owner retired and sold his house and garage. That's when he called us and said if we came to Florida for the car that we could have it for free."
Although the vehicle looks like a stock car of the era, it averaged 168 miles a gallon in the contest. Even its tires, whose tread consists of continuous ribs and grooves, were modified. Instead of having all five ribs hitting the ground evenly, the two outer ribs and two inner ribs of each tire had been trimmed down with a hand knife. This focused the vehicle's weight on the center ribs, thus reducing friction and improving mileage. This sounds like a minor detail. But when you're trying to get 168 miles on each gallon, even minor details count.
At the Illinois State Historical Society, it sometimes feels like we're going for 168 miles a gallon, too. From necessity, we must trim close to the rib. But as a result, we are entering our 103 year of continuous service to our state and its history. Membership dues produce considerable income, but more than 90 percent of that goes right back to members as direct benefits. What really make the difference for us are the annual gifts that many people make to the Society. Last year, these included $1,000 donations from several members. But they also included a $10 check every month from Henry Gordon of Patchogue, New York. No amount is too small. All gifts are appreciated and put to good use.
To facilitate this year's annual giving campaign, we've inserted a specially designed return envelope in this issue of Illinois Heritage. All you need to do is fill it out and return it to the Society with your donation. You can even make your gift by credit card. We guarantee all donors a high mileage return on their investments
Tom Teague Executive