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Members of the Great Plains String Quartet--from left, Melanie Loy, Beth Habicht, Sue Simonson and Karen Pfeifer -- are the musical guests at Sunday's member social at the Historic Dayton House. (Brian Korthals/Daily Globe)

All for the Dayton House, stand up and show it

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WORTHINGTON -- Even as it has become a Worthington treasure, referred to by some as a "gem on the prairie" and regularly featured in local promotional materials, the Historic Dayton House (HDH) remains a private non-profit organization benefiting from no formal public funding.

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But with no federal, state or local bailout in sight, the HDH must rely on the same sources it always has to sustain itself: voluntary donations from supportive people, along with income from events it hosts.

"To date, the Historic Dayton House has received no funding from governmental sources, either for its restoration or for ongoing operating expenses," avows Becky Schilling, manager of the facility. "It's only through the generosity of individuals and businesses that are willing to become annual members or make additional donations, and from fees earned from event and guest suite rentals, that we are able to keep things afloat here."

Thus, while the 2009 HDH member social is scheduled for this Sunday from 2 to 4 p.m. (with the annual meeting following at 4 p.m.), Schilling stresses the event is open to anyone who might be interested in becoming a member and learning more about the HDH.

Designed and built in 1890 by noted Sioux Falls, S.D., architect Wallace Dow for the family of George Draper Dayton, the house was restored in the early 2000s and has been functioning since late 2004 as a gathering place for meetings, parties and more.

"We invite those who might be considering membership, or who wish to do some networking with current members, to join us on Sunday," extended Schilling. "We want to share how user-friendly the Dayton House can be for events, as well."

The Great Plains String Quartet will be the musical guest for the afternoon, while refreshments will be available as members and guests mingle.

"The string players are volunteering their time because each one in the quartet loves and cares for the Dayton House, and we know how enjoyable their music will be for our attendees," offered Schilling.

Annual membership in the HDH, which is available at levels beginning at $25 and stretching to $300 and beyond, is even more important than some may realize, given the absence of public funding for the house. In 2008, membership dollars comprised nearly 20 percent of the HDH's income.

"Membership is a critical part of our continuation, and for those who have attended events here or just admired the house from afar but think it's neat for our community to have, well, we need you to 'buy in,' in a very real sense," urged Schilling.

"We guarantee that members will be the first to know of opportunities here, via newsletters and other mailings, and at certain membership levels, discounts for event or guest suite rentals apply," added Schilling.

Volunteers round out the work of the few paid staff, assisting as tour guides, decorators, servers, bakers and, at times, house maintenance workers.

"This spring, we'll have need for volunteers to help with a trim painting project," explained Schilling as she mentioned past volunteers are welcome at Sunday's event, as well.

Schilling hopes people will keep the HDH in mind as they consider their needs for scheduling and hosting events of all kinds, including showers, business meetings or family reunions. She also notes that the two second-floor guest suites are available for rent to shelter out-of-town guests or for a special get-away.

"Our prices have not increased in over three years, and I don't think there are many businesses anywhere that can say that," assured Schilling. "We have a lot of value to offer, and a lot of intrinsic historical interest that you just can't find everywhere else."

The Historic Dayton House's Sunday member social, set for 2-4 p.m. at 1311 Fourth Ave., Worthington, is also open to those potentially interested in membership. For more information about becoming a member of the Historic Dayton House or volunteering your time to the house, contact Becky Schilling at 507-727-1311 or daytonhouse@iw.net.

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