Jon Wendorff organizes volunteers at museum

Photo by Jim Muchlinski Wheels Across the Prairie museum Director Jon Wendorff stands next to the train exhibit.

The Wheels Across the Prairie museum in Tracy is almost like a pioneer city, and it takes an active group of volunteers to keep it that way.

Museum Director Jon Wendorff, who coordinates a group of 22 volunteers, said they’re a critical part of enabling Wheels Across the Prairie to operate. The museum has a total of 18 buildings.

“We ask around looking for volunteers,” Wendorff said. “My job is to figure out what each volunteer can do. It helps if they’re willing to dust, vacuum and mow. We also encourage them to experience local history.”

Wendorff grew up in Tracy. He had two teachers, Lois Henkel at St. Mary’s Catholic grade school and Bill Bolin at Tracy High School, who awakened his interest in history through their classes.

Volunteers have the opportunity to take part in an adopt a building program, where they care for a particular building and its artifacts.

The Amiret Busy Bees, the 4-H club in the Tracy area, participates in the program by caring for the museum’s school house. Wendorff said the volunteer spirit is vital to keeping the buildings open to the public.

“There’s no way we could maintain the buildings without volunteers,” he said. “We’d have to maintain the main building and that would be it. We depend on our volunteers.”

He said Wheels Across the Prairie receives some city and county funding, but that donations comprise about 80% of the total budget.

He finds that an important part of keeping volunteers is to express appreciation for their many contributions to museum operations.

“It’s very important to thank volunteers, “Wendorff said. “They should know that they’re appreciated and that things wouldn’t be the same without them. If they know that, they’re likely to stay with us.”

He said museum organizers want to build on what was started by a group of Tracy area families in the late 20th century.

They launched Wheels Across the Prairie as a private venture with the goal of preserving Tracy area history. The museum is located in a visible place next to U.S. Highway 14 on the western edge of Tracy.

“We want to keep it going and continue to expand,” Wendorff said. “We hope the families who founded it are proud of what we’ve done.”


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