Volunteers Make History

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People who have spent their lives in the Payson community mixed with newcomers to the area at the Rim Country Museum's third annual "thank you" open house Friday night.


And they all had one thing in common: they want to take an active interest in the place where the cultural history of the area is stored, exhibited and celebrated.


"It's a magnet," said Sharesse Von Strauss, the Rim Country Museum's director.


"A lot of new people coming into the community have joined the museum to realize a foundation.

I've noticed with our new members moving in, they've really done a lot of research in making the move. They want to take an active interest, and the first place to go is the museum because it holds the cultural history of the community."


Von Strauss said the newcomers are from all over the area, from Pine, Strawberry, Star Valley, Christopher Creek, and as far away as Happy Jack.


The newcomers are welcomed by a host of people who started the museum and who continue to be its foundation, members of the Historical Society and Daughters of the Pioneers.


"In many cases, they are the descendants of the people who pioneered this area," Von Strauss said. "They realize the importance of our area as it contributed to the history of the Arizona."


Von Strauss said the annual museum party is a tribute to those who put in countless hours upgrading the exhibits, building the buildings, doing everything from raising the walls to making the brackets for storage shelves.


All the things that go unseen are magically put in place by a core base of some 48 volunteers, a group Von Strauss said is the "real backbone" of the museum. The volunteers comprise 20 percent of the museum's membership of 253.


"It's usually 10 percent," Von Strauss said. "We have 20 percent, which is remarkable."


The volunteers take on a number of jobs and often work on their own.


"If something needs to be done, someone just says, 'I'll do it."' she said. "One day you walk in and, where there's been a blank wall, there's a beautiful mural."


The volunteers act as guides, take care of the museum store, and sit on various committees:

exhibits, accessions, and a newly formed Payson DEW committee which will research and create a permanent exhibit on the history of bootlegging in the Rim country.


"What is so great is, if someone comes up with an idea, everybody communicates," Von Strauss said.


Exhibits that reflect the community are considered and timed to coincide with what's happening. Von Strauss said an exhibit on the Beeline Highway is in the planning stages and will be presented when the Beeline Highway is complete in 2001.


The museum is currently working with APS on an exhibit featuring the Childs-Irving Power Plant, which is scheduled to be decommissioned.


"Usually a temporary exhibit lasts three or four months," Von Strauss said. "A lot of time and energy is put into every one."


The General Crook Trail exhibit, built to be a temporary exhibit, is now a permanent display because it was so well done, Von Strauss said.


During the rodeo, the museum plans to have an exhibit of saddles and bridles and the history of the people who made and used them.


The museum is now featuring an archeology exhibit because March is Archeology Month for the state. Volunteers worked with the Shoofly Archeology Chapter in researching and presenting the exhibit.


Museum volunteers also worked with the Payson Art League, the Payson Quilters, and the Payson Lioness Club on other exhibits.


"The biggest issue is one of responsibility," Von Strauss said. "The museum's responsibility is to reflect the community.


"We certainly are not the staid old museum. We're very active in this community and what it's doing as well as holding items of our history and presenting our prehistory to the public."


The base purpose of a museum, a concept established in the late 1700s, is to hold and care for items of significance for the public good, Von Strauss said.


To that end, the Rim Country Museum is fulfilling its purpose.


"It was a very revolutionary concept at the time," she said, "to educate the public. At that time, you had an upper class and a lower class, very few in the middle. The idea was, if you had an educated public, you were better off."


Museum volunteers are currently working with the Committee for the Vietnam Wall, which will be at Green Valley Park May 4-8. The items that are left at the wall will be collected by museum volunteers and stored for future exhibits, either at the museum or by local veterans' groups.


Although Von Strauss heard nothing but compliments Friday night on the accomplishments of the museum staff, the volunteers and its members, she said, "We're almost there. I'd say we have more to do, but we're right on course."


The Rim Country Museum, located at 700 Green Valley Parkway, is open from noon to 4 p.m. Wednesday through Sunday. New members and volunteers are welcome and can call Von Strauss at the museum at 474-3483 or at 474-8392 for information.

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