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Q&A with Howard County

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Howard County Historical Society staff members, from left, Stew Lauterbach, curator; Kelly Karickhoff, executive director; and Bonnie Van Kley, curator of archives show off their Outstanding Historical Organization Award from IHS.

Indiana Historical Society Director of Local History Services Jeff Harris interviews Kelly Karickhoff, executive director of the Howard County Historical Society in Kokomo. The Howard County Historical Society was honored with the Outstanding Historical Organization Award by the IHS in 2008.

What are some of Howard County’s history highlights?

Kokomo is credited as the home of the first car – Elwood Haynes’ invention is in the permanent collection of the Smithsonian. Seiberling Mansion is on the National Register of Historic Places and is the home of the Howard County Museum. The gas boom changed the whole dynamic of the county – we became an industrial center almost overnight. Howard County also had the largest gas well found in Indiana, and the Opalescent Glass Company was founded as a result of the natural gas and helps connect us to the world.

What projects do you have underway?

We are working on a comprehensive exhibit plan. A part of that plan is an oral history project focused around a company called Continental Steel, once named Kokomo Fence and Wire. They survived the Great Depression and eventually folded in the 1980s. The site became one of the largest Superfund sites in the state. The Howard County Community Foundation funded 12 oral histories to collect information on the company. We are also collecting related artifacts. We think the history of the company is very relevant and realized we couldn’t adequately tell its story on our own – we wanted to tell the entire story of the company, not just the story of the cleanup. We are working our new Collections Plan, including deaccessioning and removing items from our collection that are not related to our mission, are in poor condition and for other reasons. This is part of our plan to make our collection more significant to telling the story of Howard County.

What kinds of outreach programs do you have planned?

We have a new education program that will launch in the fall. We have a great opportunity to serve the area school community. Part of the plan includes a fifth-grade program called Gas Boom to Glass Boom in which school kids work on a science experiment that demonstrates how glass is made. It was a real easy connection to link local history and the science of glass

How have LHS and other departments of IHS helped your organization?

When we don’t know the answer to a question, LHS is the first call we make. I’ve been here 18 years, and LHS is the first call. Most of our connection to the Indiana Historical Society is through Local History Services.