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Erik Pearson squats to the level of his 3- and 5-year-old, pig-tailed daughters. Hands on the glass, they peer into a display of colorful rotary phones.

"Which color phone do you want?" Pearson asked his daughters, both clad in pink.

"I want that big one!" one of them says, pointing to a console half her size.

"Oh yeah? Well I want that bigger one!" her sister says, pointing to another.

Pearson came to the Frank H. Woods Telephone Pioneer Museum on a field trip when he was a kid. When he heard it might be closing, he decided to bring his kids to the museum's Valentine's Day event.

"I wanted to have the chance to explain how things used to be," Pearson said. "They've never seen or used anything like this."

The museum has been located at 2047 M St. for about 20 years, but in August, the board found out that might have to change.

Windstream, the former owner of the property, sold it to Speedway Properties and Nelnet. Now, the property will be used to develop the new Telegraph District.

That means the museum either has to extend its lease or find a different place to house its artifacts, according to Kathy Dvorak, a board member of the museum. Otherwise, it will close come March 31.

"It's disheartening, but times change," Dvorak said. "And we have to think positive. It's not the end yet."

The museum is open every Sunday from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m., but also arranges tours throughout the week for groups ahead of time. Dvorak said they frequently have elementary schools and senior homes arrange tours.

Admission is free, but the board has considered implementing a fee to raise necessary funds for a new location.

On Valentine's Day, more than 100 community members went to the museum and made Valentines with notes supporting it.

"We're thrilled with the turnout," said Diane Walkowiak, a volunteer with the museum, who estimated between 350 and 400 people attended the even throughout the afternoon. "The community support is there, but we just need to convince the developers to make it possible to save the museum."

She added that because the new district is named after the telegraph, she thinks it would be fitting to have the Telephone Museum in it. 

Nobody from Speedway or Nelnet was available for comment on Sunday. 

However, in a recent interview via email with the Lincoln Journal Star, Ken Fougeron, Speedway's operations manager, said the company is "interested and willing to discuss how the museum could be a part of the redevelopment." Speedway is also "willing to work with the museum to allow them to remain in their current building for the short term."

Jack and Marilynn Hoenig came to the museum for the first time on Valentine's Day. While walking through the displays, they reminisced on their own experiences as the telephone became more popular.

"We're not spring chickens anymore, but we remember some of this from the farm," Jack said. "And some of it that came even before that we haven't seen before."

Marilynn added: "It'd be a real shame if it closed. They need to keep it open, especially for the children."

Dvorak said that if they don't find another location, all the artifacts that have been saved will go into storage. She said ideally, they want a new location that's at least 10,000 square feet, but they're open to whatever they can afford.

Walkowiak said the museum has been busy since it announced that it might have to close.

"This is a wonderful treasure not just for Lincoln, but for Southeast Nebraska," Walkowiak said. "When developers see how important this is to everyone, I can't help but think they'll find a solution."

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Reach the writer at 402-473-7223 or vdaves@journalstar.com. On Twitter @VanessaDaves.

 

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