STEUBENVILLE - The annual meeting and membership dinner of the Old Fort Steuben Project Inc. held Wednesday evening at Froehlich's Classic Corner was not a time for yearly stats on money made and visitors logged.
Instead, it was "the human element - the value of relationships we've developed, the lives we've touched, all the things that are priceless" that Director Judy Bratten chose to examine.
Commemorating 26 years of "Keeping History Alive!" the nonprofit organization has reconstructed the 18th century Fort Steuben that gave the city its name and has developed an entire block into a destination for locals and tourists.
FORT HONORS — The Historic Fort Steuben’s annual meeting and dinner Wednesday evening at Froehlich’s Classic Corner included the presentation of surprise awards to fort volunteers Alan Hall, director of the Public Library of Steubenville and Jefferson County, and retired teacher Dave Nicholson. With Hall, third from left, are, from left, guest speaker Lt. Jonathan Bratten; his mother, Judy Bratten, fort director; and Jerry Barilla, board president. - Janice Kiaski
The more than 100 supporters of the project that preserves and promotes the fort and its place in history heard many examples of the human side, including how teachers and students alike describe their fort visits as wonderful experiences.
"There's no way to put a price on the feeling you get when you hear 'Wow, cool!' from the youngsters as they walk through the gate into the fort. Last year one fourth-grade girl told me 'I never knew history could be fun.' And just last week one student said, 'This is the best field trip ever,'" Bratten said.
Two weeks ago, Bratten presented the fort's first traveling exhibit of history to Harrison County fourth-graders. "We had a great time. There was no way to put a price on the smiles I saw that day," Bratten said.
Another example is the summer youth program, "a unique educational opportunity for two weeks each summer," Bratten said, commending volunteer Dave Nicholson for an "outstanding job of combining regular classroom work with videos, activities and games. Dave brings in special guests who give the young people unique presentations and enhance learning," she said.
Nicholson was a surprise award recipient singled out by Jerry Barilla, board president, as was Alan Hall, director of the Public Library of Steubenville and Jefferson County.
Both were applauded for their outstanding contributions to the fort. In addition to conducting the summer youth program, Nicholson is a tour guide and helps on school field trips. Hall serves as secretary on the fort board and is an interpreter and a tour guide for school field trip and visitors.
Bratten said the fort is blessed to have its volunteer interpreters, not just "history lovers but people lovers" who "transform a dry museum experience into living history. Our interpreters have a great ability to connect with people and in doing so make our visitors feel at home and give them a very positive impression of our community. Their contributions are priceless," Bratten said.
Special exhibits and events throughout the year preserve history, from the annual quilt show and Civil War exhibit during Black History Month to Constitution Week and Ohio Valley Frontier Days - all of them benefits that can't be measured, Bratten said.
"We are blessed with volunteers and interns who have helped us develop our exhibits and inventoried them. The contributions they have made and the friends that have developed as a result are priceless, she said.
In a leap from history to tourism, Bratten noted the fort has added a new responsibility, serving as the Steubenville Convention and Visitors Bureau to promote the city and its events and attractions.
"We are brainstorming and planning and cooperating for the good of the community, and what price can you put on those efforts," she said. The Summer Concert Series kicks off at 6:30 p.m. tonight at the Louis Berkman Ampitheater with an oldies night. The weekly performances by various groups give residents inexpensive yet high-quality entertainment, said Bratten, who expressed gratitude for fort support.
"Our success is not judged by the dollars we earn or the number of people who pass through our doors. Our success is determined by the cooperative efforts, the partnerships and the relationships that have developed over the past 26 years. We need one another and what is most precious in life cannot be measured, but it can be appreciated," she said.
Bratten extended an invitation for membership for as little as $25 a year. For information call (740) 283-1787 or visit the website at www.oldfortsteuben.com
Barilla's role for the evening included welcoming remarks, presenting the awards and later commending Bratten and assistant Mary Snyder's efforts in their "tremendous amount of work in a short time" to promote tourism and Steubenville events.
Barilla said that includes the farmers' market, which will be moved back in front of the new city building on Third Street with the starting time moved up two hours to 9 a.m.
The murals constitute another added responsibility in serving as the Steubenville Convention and Visitors Bureau with two of the 23 on tap to be renovated this year.
Nine roofs at the fort have been completed in what is a two-year project, according to Barilla.
The evening's featured speaker was Bratten's son, history buff Lt. Jonathan Bratten, who joined the Army National Guard in 2008 and went on to gain his commission as an officer in 2011. He is a platoon leader with the 262d Engineer Co. in Maine.
Jonathan Bratten graduated from the Franciscan University of Steubenville in 2008 with a degree in history. He continued his studies at the University of New Hampshire in 2011 with a master's degree in history, focusing on colonial America. He has spoken at several academic conferences, most notably the Army Center for Military History's annual conference.
"The Ohio Valley is full of amazing history," said Jonathan Bratten, whose topic was "In the Crossroads of Empire: The French and Indian War in the Ohio Valley."