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Ninepipes Museum celebrates 15 years

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RONAN — The Ninepipes Museum of Early Montana is a place where history lives.

Founded in 1997, the museum has been a cultural staple in the Mission Valley ever since. It represents more than a century of culture, history and tradition while boasting thousands upon thousands of valley-specific pieces. 

“I really enjoy it out here,” said board chairman Rod Wamsley. “I think it’s something that everybody can really enjoy if they stop and think about it. We spend all our lives working, but this is not work for me.”

The dream of a few dedicated residents, the museum nearly saw its end last fall. 

Co-founders Bud and Laurel Cheff held a lease on the building since 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. 

Not willing to let the dream die so easily, the board of directors decided to try and raise enough money to purchase the building. In August 2012, they were nearly there with almost $200,000 in the bank — but it wasn’t enough. A last-second Montana Office of Tourism Infrastructure Investment Program grant made up the difference, offering the museum $66,114 to cover the remainder of the purchase. 

“It’s pretty special,” Bud said with an ear-to-ear grin. “I don’t know, we almost gave up — but so many things in here are so close to myself and my family that it was really hard to give up the fight.”

Bud Cheff Sr., an integral part of the museum and it’s success, died in June 2012 with the building’s future still uncertain.

“Two weeks before he died, we had a bunch of kids come through and he was down here telling them stories, singing to them and stuff ... We thought we were going to make it before he died, but we really weren’t sure. A lot of people helped,” Bud Jr. said. “Even after he was gone and before we had it completely saved, he kept pushing me on — even from the grave.”

Now that spring has arrived, the museum is open and able to host curious residents, travelers and history-lovers once more. 

Jo Cheff, Bud and Laurel’s daughter, recently moved back to the valley from Seattle, Wash., after 20 years away from home. She works at the museum now, helping her parents keep the family dream alive. 

“This has always been home for me,” she said. “I’m pretty excited to be able to help out in the museum and I’m happy we’re keeping it.”

“Her coming back has been a big help,” Bud said of his daughter. “She’s running this trading post now, and to have somebody younger to keep it going is great.”

And, thanks to the hard work of many, the beacon of history will continue to grow into the foreseeable future.

“This is a pretty special year this year, I think,” Bud said as he gazed proudly around him. “It looks like we’re on the road to being here for a long time.”

The museum is located south of Ronan on U.S. Highway 93 near Eagle Pass Trail junction. Current hours of operation are 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Thursday, Friday and Saturday.

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