On Wednesday, the board of trustees for the Sheldon Museum voted to change the institution’s name from the ‘Sheldon Museum and Cultural Center’ to the ‘Haines Sheldon Museum.’
Museum director Helen Alten says confusion has plagued the museum for years, because of the name ‘Sheldon.’ It comes from Steve Sheldon, whose collection is the foundation of the museum. But it gets mixed up with the more well-known Sheldon Jackson museum in Sitka and the Sheldon Museum of Art in Nebraska.
“People do not realize how cumbersome and difficult that name is,” Alten said. “Not within our community, in our community it means something, it’s the Sheldon family, it’s a historic, community-wide…but we are living in a global community. We are trying to draw people off these cruise ships who want to come here that know about us beforehand. And it’s not possible with that name.”
Board of Trustees President Jim Shook says the board has talked about the challenges of the name for a while.
“We entered into this years ago and have discussed it quite a number of times and it’s finally come to a head which I think it very good,” he said.
In October, the board made what some saw as a sudden decision to change the museum name. The new title the board chose at the time was the ‘Haines Museum and Cultural Center.’ But the removal of ‘Sheldon’ from the name prompted many negative reactions, including from the grandchildren of Steve Sheldon.
“I don’t think it was meant as a disrespect for the Sheldon family I think it was primarily meant as a way of clarifying who we are,” Alten said.
Still, the board decided to ask for public input before making a final name change. Shook put out a request for community members to email or send in letters with their suggestions. But the response was less than overwhelming.
“We certainly expected a flood of input from the community,” Shook said. “But we just didn’t feel it.”
He says they received two responses. When the board met Wednesday, it voted five to one for the ‘Haines Sheldon Museum.’
“They wanted it to be clean and they wanted it to be clear and to really indicate who we are,” Alten said. “They wanted the community name in it, they wanted to include the Sheldon name and they didn’t want any extraneous verbage.”
One of Sheldon’s grandchildren, Betsy Hakkinen Galloway, says she is ‘relieved’ the museum board decided to keep the family name in the museum title.
“We are really grateful to have the name Sheldon remain in the museum, and thanks to the community for their input and to the board for being flexible. ‘Haines Sheldon Museum’ works for us,” Galloway said from her home in Oregon.
Board member Diana Kelm was the one dissenting vote against the name change.
“I really feel that the museum is a piece of history in its own right, including the name,” Kelm said. “And I saw no good reason to change the name. There were many valid reasons for changing the name but I just didn’t buy it. It’s always been the Sheldon Museum, people know it as that and I just didn’t see a good reason to change it. Why change it for change’s sake?”
But Shook says, it’s a difficult financial climate for non-profits — having a name that distinguishes the museum, that will clarify instead of confuse, will help the institution market itself and draw more visitors.
“We all have to evolve to survive,” Shook said. “Whether it be a species or an organization. You look at the library, and they’ve done a good job of evolving or changing to meet certain needs. And I and other have felt that we should evolve as well.”
Alten hopes the way the name change upset some people in the community doesn’t cause them to stop supporting the museum.
“I was just sort of passed by someone who said ‘well I’m not giving them anything if they change their name.’ And I’m hoping people don’t take that attitude because the fact is we’re still the same museum and we’re the museum that serves the community and we’re an amazing museum.”
Alten and Shook say switching the museum’s name in all the advertising, signage and other materials will be gradual. It will take at least a couple years to make the transition from The Sheldon Museum and Cultural Center to the Haines Sheldon Museum.
This story was updated from the original to include comments from Betsy Hakkinen Galloway, Sheldon’s granddaughter.