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Dream comes true for Ninepipes Museum

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CHARLO — The Ninepipes Museum of Early Montana has been a cultural staple in the Mission Valley since 1997. Representing more than a century of culture, history, traditions and stories, the nonprofit museum contains thousands of priceless artifacts and has hosted visitors from around the world. 

“A German couple came through and said they’d hit every museum in Europe, but this was their favorite one. That was amazing,” said co-founder Bud Cheff. 

Board chairman Rod Wamsley said the museum has seen visitors from Austraila, New Zealand, China, Korea, Spain, France and Germany. Several enjoyed the museum so much that they donated $1,000 after only one visit. 

Even so, the museum fell on difficult times in 2010. 

Co-founder Laurel Cheff said she and her husband Bud had leased the building since the museum’s creation in 1996. In 2010, the building changed hands, and the Cheffs and the board of directors were offered a choice: buy the building for $250,000, or give up their dream.

The board of directors decided to try to raise the money to purchase the building. 

“The board of directors have done a lot, and they’re so easy to work with,” Wamsley said. “We explain what they need, and they’ll go out of their way to help us attain the goals we set.”

Since 2010, the museum has operated on a shoe-string budget and was staffed by volunteers only while fundraising efforts were under way. Through donations, grants and pledges from the local community and abroad, the museum was able to raise a large percentage of the $250,000 required to purchase the property — but not enough.

Laurel said in August, the museum was still short $66,114. The number must have weighed heavy on her mind, as she recited it from memory on two separate occasions. 

“It was our dream for years,” Bud said. “When we were losing the building, it was really hard.”

In October, the museum was notified that it was a recipient of the Montana Office of Tourism’s Tourism Infrastructure Investment Program grant. According to the Office of Tourism, the TIIP grant has invested nearly $2.5 million in 56 projects through 37 communities in Montana since its creation in 1995. 

The funds received from the TIIP grant were sufficient to close the gap and allow the museum to purchase its building and remain open. 

With deed in hand, Wamsley looked around at the building’s vibrant interior and smiled. 

“Now we’ve got a permanent base we can work from,” he said. “I’ve always wanted a museum, but I was never able to have my own. I love working here and meeting all the people who come here from around the world. They say this is one of the best museums they’ve ever come across, and that makes me proud.”

“The whole community has been so good in helping us reach this goal,” Laurel said. “It’s particularly rewarding — the fact that these people from overseas turned around and helped us buy it.”

In celebration of reaching the lofty goal set two years ago and keeping the museum alive for future generations to enjoy, the museum will host an open house thanksgiving event in the museum Nov. 17. 

“Bud is the real figure behind the organization. It is his dream to be able to save parts of the past,” Laurel said. “This will be the culmination of his dream, the dream which I have been a part of since our marriage.” 

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