On Wednesday, March 7, 2018, the Minnesota Historical Society invited The Thompson Hall Board of Trustees to present on the success of the Legacy Fund (passed in 2008) to the Senate Environment and Natural Resources Policy and Legacy Finance Committee. The Legacy Fund is managed by the Minnesota Historical Society (MHS). MHS asked only two out of 2200+ grantees to present at this hearing, one of which was Thompson Hall. This grant that was given to Thompson Hall Board of Trustees, Minnesota Association of Deaf Citizens (MADC), and the Commission of Deaf, DeafBlind and Hard of Hearing Minnesotans (MNCDHH) to apply for the National Register of Historic Places. Most recently the Board of Trustees applied for and received a Historical and Cultural Heritage Grant and are in the process of getting bids from an architectural firm for a Historic Structure Report and they plan to apply for future funds to renovate the building. Herman Fuechtmann represented the project. Seated next to him are Steve Elliott and Dave Kelliher of the Minnesota Historical Society.
Steve Elliott >>> ...Deaf, Deafblind and hard of hearing Minnesotans first applied for a grant to have Thompson Hall listed on the National Register of Historic Places. This is the first step of preserving a historic property. More recently, Thompson Hall was awarded a grant to study their building for a historic structure report to prepare for more detailed design and structural work. While historic buildings are intrinsically interesting, what makes them even more compelling is learning about the people whose lives and stories are connected to these historic places. Herman Fuechtmann is the Chair of the board of trustees of Thompson Hall. Herman will tell us more about his community’s experience.
[Pause as interpreter turns on the microphone]
Herman Fuechtmann >>> Madame Chair and Members of the Committee and Executive Director,
My name is Herman Fuechtmann and I am the President of the Board of Trustees of the Charles Thompson Memorial Hall. Thank you for allowing me to provide testimony to today to describe the important role that the Legacy Fund plays for the Deaf Community.
In 1916 Margaret Brooks Thompson donated Charles Thompson Memorial Hall so the Deaf community of Minnesota would have a free space to gather. The building, located on the corner of Marshall and Fairview, was given as a memorial to Margaret’s husband, Charles, both of whom were Deaf and met at the Minnesota State Academy for the Deaf. It was the first Deaf clubhouse in the United States. The building was designed by architect Olof Hanson, widely regarded as the nation’s first Deaf architect, and a close friend and former classmate of Charles Thompson. His design techniques accounted for good natural lighting and sight lines to enhance communication through visual sign language. The building continues to serve as the social hub for deaf people in the Twin Cities and has played an important role in the growth of Minnesota’s vibrant Deaf community. Minnesota is home to dozens of Deaf-supportive organizations and social groups and is regarded among the nation’s most inviting places for Deaf people. [Verifies that interpreter is following the written script.] The thriving Minnesota Deaf community can be attributed in large part to Thompson Hall. We celebrate, grieve, plan, learn, organize, advocate and socialize in this historic site.
The building is showing its age and needs repairs. It isn’t accessible- there is no elevator. The Trustees and community want to preserve this architectural gem and community treasure. In 2011, we applied for a legacy grant so we could hire experts who could help us get on the National Register of Historic Places. The MHS staff were terrific and helped us throughout the process, and the building received the designation. Most recently the Board of Trustees applied for a Historic Structures Grant and are in the process of getting bids from an architectural firm.
We hope to continue to apply for funds, including Legacy Grants, with the nonprofit, Deaf Equity, so we can 1) upgrade Thompson Hall's electrical, plumbing, and heating systems, 2) Provide accessibility (e.g. ramps and elevators and accessible restrooms), 3) Share the stories of Thompson Hall (both architectural and cultural) with the public as part of Minnesota history, and most importantly, 4) Preserve Thompson Hall as an irreplaceable "living history" resource for future generations to appreciate.
We invite you to visit us! Thank you for your time and the role you play in ensuring that these funds are made available to small volunteer-based organizations like ours.
[Steve Elliott and Herman Fuechtmann shake hands]