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Old Rugged Cross Museum in Reed City, honoring beloved hymn's composer, faces closure

Sarah Rahal
The Detroit News

The hymn "The Old Rugged Cross" has stood the test of time, being performed and recorded by numerous gospel and county music artists over the years since it was composed in 1913.

Old Rugged Cross Historical Museum, located at 780 North Park Street in Reed City.

But a museum dedicated to the composer of the hymn, the Rev. George Bennard, in Reed City may only have a few more months left.

Reed City Councilmember Nate Bailey said the Old Rugged Cross Museum is facing closure after nearly 70 years if revenue doesn't increase,

The museum is an outgrowth of a memorial cross that was erected in September 1954 near Bennard's home.

The three-room building contains mementos and relics from the Bennard home and serves as the original Osceola County Historical Museum, which opened in downtown Reed City in 1968.

Bennard, a native of Youngstown, Ohio, who grew up in Iowa, preached in Michigan and composed "The Old Rugged Cross" in Albion, where it was first sung. He retired just north of Reed City, where he lived until his death in 1958.

The museum is named in honor of the hymn and its composer.

"It’s not just for Reed City, but for the surrounding communities," Bailey said. "They need more members and desperately need more volunteers."

The museum remains a nonprofit that's run solely by elder volunteers; however, the building is rented from the city for $200 a month, Bailey said.

The operators approached City Council at the beginning of the year requesting the rent be waived to prevent having to close it due to lack of funding.

"The city is losing money, even at the current rent rate, with maintenance and things we do," Bailey said. "Other members of the council weren’t sold on eliminating rent and because the museum is an important community location I took it upon myself, to try to increase their revenue."

The museum was being run on no more than $4,000 in donations each year, Bailey said.

Bailey said the average age of volunteers is nearly 70 and he wished more young people would get involved with an important piece of history.

The museum currently has under 20 members and memberships are $10 a month, he said.

New members "might have different ideas or approaches, maybe some expertise in social media to get the word out or for more public engagement would make a big difference," he said. 

The first room is divided into six spaces, depicting life in the Reed City Area before 1900: a dining room, kitchen, parlor, bedroom, office with items from historic businesses, and a clothing room.

The second room contains displays of early farm equipment, shop tools, models of early logging operations, artifacts, and equipment from the factory of Michigan Cottage Cheese, and an antique 1930s era fire truck and equipment.

The third room is devoted to the life, possessions and music of Bennard. It contains furniture, personal items and music from the Bennard home, which was located on Mackinaw Trail.

Old Rugged Cross Historical Museum is located at 780 North Park Street in Reed City.

The museum also houses the archives of the Reed City Area Genealogical Society.

The collection includes microfilms of the old Reed City area newspapers and Osceola County census records, obituaries, plat books, family files and old photographs.

Museum officials were not immediately available for comment Saturday.

srahal@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @SarahRahal_