Museum volunteers keep history alive

Scott Swanson

Each Friday morning and every fourth Sunday, Lucille Rapp and her daughter Charlotte Graham open the doors at the East Linn Museum and settle down to wait for visitors.

That doesn’t mean they sit around. Charlotte vacuums the floors and her mom dusts the extensive collection.

They are among 16 volunteer hosts and hostesses who keep the museum open – all without pay or outside financing.

At 94, Lucille is the oldest and longest active volunteer of the bunch, who would all qualify for senior benefits.

Glenda Hopkins, co-treasurer of the museum board, said Rapp has been active in the museum since 1995, about the time Martha Steinbacher, who had been the museum’s executive director for some 20 years, had to step down to care for her ailing husband. Rapp helps keeps everything operating smoothly, Hopkins said.

“If we forget something or don’t have paper towels, guess who reminds us?” she said.

These days the museum is run by the board, led by Hopkins and former Sweet Home High School art teacher Gail Gregory, who share the director responsibilities.

“We have all worked together,” Gregory said. “We’ve shared duties and rotated duties.”

The museum building, located at the triangular corner of Highways 228 and 20 and Long Street, once housed the Nazarene Church and then the Reorganized Church of the Latter Day Saints, until it was purchased in 1975 by a board founded two years earlier with the purpose of forming a local museum.

Over the years the collection of historical artifacts, ranging from a beauty shop permanent wave machine that resembles a jellyfish and the old Linotype machine that was used at The New Era until the early 1970s, to a sizeable collection of firearms, dozens of antique cameras and thousands of historical photos, to a large collection of tools and antique timber industry equipment. In short, there’s something for everyone.

It also bears the imprint of many local folks who have donated time, money and expertise to get the mortgage paid, build additional structures to house larger items, maintain all the buildings and an arbor featuring heirloom climbing roses.

The museum is open weekdays from February through November and draws visitors from all over the world, volunteers say. In the first couple of weeks of February there were more than 20 who stopped in.

“Some days we have nobody,” Hopkins said. “Some days five or six.”

Students sometimes visit, like the 56 from a Catholic school who were at Camp Attitude and made a stop at the museum on the way home. Hosts say local schools aren’t visiting like they once did, but the Boy Scouts show up every year, and senior centers, RV clubs, leadership groups and others stop by.

It’s been a labor of love for the volunteers who keep it all going, they say.

“I’m just a history buff,” Gregory said. “I guess I picked it up from my dad. I enjoy western history. When you come in and help people find things, it’s like a treasure hunt.”

Hopkins said she enjoys hearing from visitors, many of them former local residents, who have stories to tell when they see artifacts on display. One man came in and explained some of the old logging equipment on display in the basement.

“Visitors come in here and they don’t realize what a resource, what a treasure this is,” she said. “It’s a very valuable resource for the community that has to be cared for.

“Both Brownsville and Albany (museums) have paid staff. We have no paid staff members. To maintain something like this with only donations and two money-making events (the annual yard sale and the Christmas Bazaar) is pretty amazing.”

But, Hopkins and Gregory say, they’re short-handed, getting on in years and they need help. They have one board member, Scott Weld, who is younger than 50, but he doesn’t have time to volunteer as some of the older members do.

“We need more men,” Hopkins said, adding that they have one regular male volunteer – though others will come in to help with special projects.

They especially need people who can help take the museum into the 21st century, giving it a Web presence and computerizing more of its operations, information and records.

“It would be very helpful to get volunteers who have up-to-date technology skills,” Hopkins said.

One volunteer, Janet Monroe, has been computerizing its vast photo collection, which is how Gregory got started – she volunteered to help with the photos.

“That turned out to be quite a job,” she said.

The other regulars include Bill and Verna Bell, Mildred Chavez, Judy Keeney, Terry Lenini, Jessie Tenbusch, Nadine Jackson, twin sisters Catherine and Roberta McKern of Brownsville, Mike Sele, Helen Trukositz and siblings Frances and Herb Thums and Mary Sheena of the Brush Creek area, who have been involved for years. Others involved in the board include Charlene Adams, Billie Weber and Arlie Elliott.

Gregory said that, with more help, they could do more special-interest events, such as the Appraisal Day the museum hosted some years back. Possibilities include holding an ice cream social and a rotating photo display. They need help keeping inventory – “We have a resource room filled with documents that no one has gone through yet,” Hopkins said.

“We’re always getting new things all the time,” Gregory said.

There’s also maintenance and updating displays, replacing labels and generally making displays more attractive and educational.

“You don’t need to know anything about the museum,” Gregory said.

“We just need more people on hand,” Hopkins chimed in. “We can train them. We all started that way.”

Graham said that, although she was born and raised in Sweet Home before moving to Indiana, where she taught school until she retired and moved back in 1997 – “a bad penny always returns!” – she has learned a lot about the community through volunteering.

“I thought I knew Sweet Home until I started working here,” she said. “But meeting these people, I’m learning more about our community and the surrounding area. You think you know everything but you don’t.”

Hopkins agreed.

“You learn so much about people and Sweet Home,” she said. “You are leaving a living legacy that will continue for years, that people will continue to learn from. This was entrusted to us. If you care about Sweet Home, this is one of the ways you can show that.”