The Virginia Living Museum folks have even more cause to celebrate today, now that they’ve officially retired a $9 million debt on deadline day.
The bank that held the $9 million note called in the debt earlier in the year and the VLM has been working to raise funds to meet the December 31 payment deadline. An anonymous donor offered $6 million if the VLM could raise the rest. They’ve been slowly accumulating the rest thanks to donations and pledges from organizations and individuals – even children emptying their piggybanks – since May.
Last week, the VLM had $75,000 to go; Tuesday it was $25,000 and yesterday there was only $8,000. This morning, the last little bit was counted up, according to Executive Director Page Hayhurst. “Hundreds of people came in this week to donate,” she says.
Hayhurst brought her fire pit from home and the staff printed out a giant, pretend bank note for $9 million. “Then we ripped it into a million tiny pieces and burned it in the garden!” she says. “The note went up in flames, and that’s just where we wanted it to go.”
Turning the note to ashes isn’t the only celebration the VLM has planned for this special day. At noon, a special cake decorated like a bank note will be fed to two hungry opossums so museum visitors can join in the payoff celebration. From 11 a.m. until 1 p.m. the museum hosted a family-oriented New Year’s Eve celebration, so lots of VLM families will have a chance to say goodbye to the debt that’s been hanging over the museum all year.
The actual payment wasn’t quite as satisfying as burning or eating effigies, Hayhurst says. The funds were electronically transferred to the bank this morning by a click of a button. All the money raised in the form of pledges was covered by the museum’s endowment, and Hayhurst says people who pledged (rather than donating) will have time to pay over the coming year.
“The Living Museum is really a community place,” she says. “When it comes to making the community better…it’s the people who make it happen.”