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Saxonburg museum curator resigns due to financial concerns

Saxonburg Museum curator Fred Caesar addresses the Saxonburg borough council during a meeting April 16. Caesar will retire from his position effective May 29. Butler Eagle File Photo

Fred Caesar announced on Monday, May 20, he will step down from his role as curator of the Saxonburg Museum effective May 29.

“It has been a great honor to care for family treasures and heirlooms that tell the story of this area and its heritage,” Caesar wrote in a letter addressed to the public, which was posted to the Saxonburg Museum’s Facebook page on Monday. “It has been you, the visitors, who have energized me and given me so much respect.”

Caesar’s resignation comes as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, the Friends of Saxonburg Museum, is in talks to take over the museum’s operations from the borough. According to his resignation letter, Caesar has “become uncomfortable” with the future economic realities that the museum may now have to face.

Namely, he expressed concern about the possibility that the museum’s new operators may have to turn to the public to raise funds to sustain its own operations, in addition to saving the wire rope workshop.

Although talks are still ongoing between both sides, the most recent proposal mentioned was that the Friends group would operate the museum on behalf of the borough, who would continue to own the museum. This could mean the 501(c)(3) would have responsibility for the building’s utilities and maintenance, among other matters.

“There’s a possibility that there would have to be fundraising to help pay for the operation of the museum and raise money from the public to operate,” Caesar said. “What does ‘operate’ mean? Maintenance and renovation. You've got to have money to do that. And the Friends right now do not have those funds.”

Caesar has served as curator at the Saxonburg Museum since 2015, and in recent years, he has spearheaded efforts to raise funds from the public to preserve the original wire rope workshop of the borough’s founder, John Roebling.

“He will be sorely missed ... terribly missed,” said Steven May, Saxonburg manager. “He was a tremendous asset.”

According to both Caesar and May, talks between the borough and the Friends group continue. However, May said one of the terms of the agreement may include the borough leasing the museum to the group for $1 per year.

Caesar is still hopeful for the possibilities of the museum and workshop being operated by a 501(c)(3) entity — mainly for the potential for applying for grants that would otherwise be inaccessible.

“I do believe there could be a potential long-term good from the operations and maintenance of the Saxonburg Museum by a group of volunteers involved with a 501(c)(3) organization that can also seek grants not possible through the government,” Caesar wrote in his resignation letter.

Caesar added he had no plans to serve in any capacity in the museum in the future, and he encouraged Saxonburg residents to continue to support the museum.

“I don't want to dwell on the past. I want to dwell on the future,” Caesar said. “But there's got to be a new way. There's got to be another way.”

In a letter he wrote to some borough officials, Caesar wrote, “The Borough of Saxonburg has had resilience and survived long before I stepped onto the hallowed grounds and I know it will survive very well without me.”

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