Museum Director Plans To Showcase Skills With New Full-Time Position

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Since August 1996, when Sharesse Von Strauss was named part-time director of the Rim Country Museum, she has regularly clocked in 50-hour work weeks.

Since she was named the museum's full-time director as of Dec. 1, this five-year Payson resident will no doubt be doubling her efforts.

While that will be beneficial to the museum and its patrons, something in Von Strauss' incredibly busy life had to give. That something will be her long and successful run as the Main Street Redevelopment Committee's project coordinator.

Von Strauss will continue her extracurricular duties as chairperson of Payson's Historic Preservation Conservation Commission, which has a similar goal: to maintain Payson's heritage and integrity while imbuing its residents with a genuine sense of their hometown community.

But that didn't make the decision any easier, she said.

In early November, the Town of Payson wanted to expand the Main Street committee manager's position from part- to full-time. At the same time, representatives of the Rim Country Museum's board of directors told Von Strauss they wanted to expand her part-time position to full-time.

"Obviously, I couldn't do both," Von Strauss said. "So I accepted the museum position."

For one thing, she said, the Main Street ad hoc committee had held its very last meeting; they'd completed the design review; the Historic Preservation Conservation Commission was in place; and, in short, "Everything we had set out to do, we accomplished in two years."

For another thing, Von Strauss makes no bones about the fact that her true passion is the Rim Country Museum.

"I have been in the arts and the museum milieu all my life. Of course, the museum can't offer the (pay and benefits) package the town can, but it doesn't make any difference. Money has never been a big deal to me. It's looking in the mirror each morning and saying, 'Yes!'

"I love the Main Street project, I am 1 billion percent behind it," she said, "so it was not easy to share my decision with all those wonderful people I've been working with for eons."

That's not to say that Von Strauss is pulling out of the Main Street Redevelopment Commission completely.

"I want whoever is selected to be the new Main Street manager to be well-founded and well-grounded," she said. "I have all of the files and letters and business cards ... I want to give the new manager all of this information, introduce her to the people I've been working with, and let her know what's going on. Instead of wasting two months trying to figure it out, she'll be able to start in two days, and we're that much farther ahead."

Risser Ranch Ruins

Under Von Strauss' guidance, the Rim Country Museum purchased, outright, Risser Ranch Ruins, three-quarters of an acre in Alpine Heights with almost unlimited archeological value, Strauss said. Owned by Dr. Christian Risser at the turn of the century, the parcel later became part of a land exchange with the U.S. Forest Service. Recently, the museum's board of directors purchased the property for $86,000, $10,500 under the original asking price.

"The idea behind Risser has never been done before in the United States, and that is to give the Archeology Society the opportunity to fully excavate the property, build a house on pillars above the ruins for continued research, and to show people that you don't have to destroy to build," Von Strauss said.

The project's director is Penny Minturn, an Eastern Arizona College teacher who recently headed an archeological expedition to Egypt.

Over the past year, Von Strauss also helped to direct the museum toward other accomplishments, including:

"We have developed the potential to rebuild (a replica of) the Zane Grey cabin (on the town-owned grounds of Green Valley Park near the museum);

"We purchased title to the Arizona Cowboy Hall of Fame, which we would like to place in Payson, preferably on Main Street, as a separate entity;

"We have long-term school programs we're putting into place, including history workshops and programs for the gifted and talented;

"We're also looking at the museum assessment program, which is a way for the museum to become accredited by the American Association of Museums, the only museum-accrediting body in the U.S. That will open up a tremendous amount of grants from major corporations and we'll become one of just four museums in Arizona to have that accreditation. So we're going for it."

Under her part-time direction, the museum board also has been planning other assorted fun and fund-raising events, including a volunteers' party, a ladies' luncheon, a gentlemen's discussion of where the museum is going, the museum's annual banquet, and its annual involvement in Pioneer Days and Western Heritage Days.

As she pulled all of those daunting tasks together with the help of "the best board of museum directors on the world," Von Strauss performed similar miracles as the part-time Main Street redevelopment coordinator such as successfully applying to the Arizona Main Street Program of the Arizona Department of Commerce to have Payson designated as an Arizona Main Street Community. That distinction allows the town to share about $130,000 a year with 19 other Arizona communities, and opens up new opportunities for grants and matching-fund programs.

Another project she said she's poured her heart into was the effort to get Payson certified as a local government, "which would bring us more technical assistance, grants, all those kinds of things," she said.

"The town has hired a new grant writer (Cathy Melvin), and it is now looking for a new economic developer. If they get together with the new Main Street manager and myself with our respective department heads and liaisons my God, how we could work together to do something phenomenal!

"There is not a thing in the world we could not do for the essence of our whole community."

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