Thursday, February 22, 2018

Randy Schoppe, director for the Big Horn County Historical Museum, speaks on his job and goals from his new office. He intends to expand the museum’s social media platform.In this February file photo, Randy Schoppe helps former Museum Director Suzy Havener hang up a display on Big Horn County’s role in World War I.

Randy Schoppe takes helm of Big Horn County Historical Museum

New director plans to expand museum’s online presence
A Hardin man hired by Big Horn County Historical Museum to help restore its buildings in 2013 has now become its director. In his new position, Randy Schoppe has set his sights on strengthening the museum’s social media presence.
Schoppe took over from former Director Suzy Havener, who left in July after six months. He also serves in Hardin as senior pastor of New Life Church and worked as director of the Helping Hands Food Bank from 2009-13 until he went to the museum for a change of pace.
“We’ve already joined four travel websites, we’ve boosted our exposure on TripAdvisor, we’ve added an Instagram account and we have tried to expand a little bit on our Facebook,” Schoppe said. “We already had a good Facebook presence, which I had established a few years ago.”
Bonnie Stark, assistant director for the museum, said looking to social media is “a great idea, because that’s the future.”
Stark’s belief is backed up by a 2016 Pew Research Center study that found people ages 18-29 receive 50 percent of their news online. This percentage nearly doubles their runner-up source for news – television – at 27 percent, followed by radio at 14 percent and printed newspapers at 5 percent.
Through social media, Schoppe intends to draw more visitors to the museum – they had 14,131 people stop over in 2016.
“Bottom line: I think we could easily double or triple those numbers,” he said. “We’re told roughly 400,000 people visit [the Bighorn Battlefield] each year…we just have to figure out how to get more people to stop on the way.
“A lot more people nowadays are looking to the Internet to help them plan their trips. We are the No. 1 site for this area on TripAdvisor…between that and other travel sites, I hope we can get our museum out there, in front of people.”
According to Schoppe, he is presiding over what is likely “the largest historical museum in Montana” in terms of acreage and numbers of buildings. As of 2012, the museum covers 35 acres and contains 24 authentic historic structures – four of which he personally restored for the first time.
Money from new visitors, he said, will help raise funding for the museum’s future endeavors.
“We have our eyes on several things that we think would be cool to have, but we do not have the money right now to move any of those structures,” he said.
At present, he is working on two main construction projects: replacing floors in the Camp Custer Cabins – built in 1927 – and putting new logs in the LaForge Cabin – home of Thomas LaForge, who came to Montana in 1865.
Replacing the LaForge Cabin’s 24-foot logs will be challenging, Schoppe continued, as their main contractor, Duane Ostermiller of Billings, died unexpectedly on July 8, 2016. He was 84 at the time and on the job moving houses.
With Ostermiller gone, the museum crew needs to find a way to replace three to four logs on the LaForge Cabin, though none of them have experience working with them.
“Duane moved almost every single building on the museum grounds today,” Schoppe said. “Now, we’ve been in the process of trying to find a contractor with log experience – and not just building log houses, but going back in to replace logs.”
Schoppe met recently with someone who he believes can do the job. To pay for the renovations, he is putting together a grant.
As Schoppe goes forward in managing the museum, he has the benefit of a good rapport with the museum staff, according to Stark. Schoppe agreed, saying he would be lost in paperwork without Stark and Museum Assistant Joan Miller.
“He’s easy to work with [and] all three of us work well together,” Stark said. “He can do anything.”
More information on the Big Horn County Historical Museum may be found on their Facebook page at or by calling (406) 665-1671.