Museum seeks more volunteers to fill ranks with local knowledge

By Scott Swanson
Of The New Era/Lebanon Local

Terri Lanini and Steve Rice sit in the East Linn Museum workroom, chatting with a visitor.

They are the staff for today, one of three days a week the museum, at 746 Long St., is open to the public.

Lanini, the organization’s secretary and treasurer, also is the facility’s de facto director. Rice, an Albany resident, is her second cousin. He comes in once a week to help out.

They are among a small but dedicated group of volunteers who keep the museum operating. They all keep the collection organized, plan displays, greet and guide visitors, clean the building and collect donations – both financial and potential exhibits.

Lanini arrived in Sweet Home in 2008 from Springfield with her husband Curtis. Though she’d never lived in the community before, she was familiar with it.

“I was born in Lebanon and went to Hamilton Creek School,” she said.

Her family was in the process of moving to Springfield in 1962 when the Columbus Day Storm hit.

“On that day we ended up at Steve’s house out at Fairview, because we didn’t have a home to go to,” she recalled.

One of the reasons she and Curtis moved to Sweet Home was to become closer to family.

“There’s so many Rices here that I’d never even met and now I’m very well-acquainted with them and do stuff with them,” she said, noting that she produces a quarterly Rice family newsletter.

Lanini, who’s also active in the Sweet Home Genealogy Society, clearly enjoys history. She and Curtis ended up purchasing a historic house “in, pretty much, original shape,” located next door to the museum.

“Shortly after I moved here I started volunteering,” she said, adding that she found herself on the board shortly thereafter. She’d actually joined the museum as a member before even moving to town.

She found that it’s an interesting endeavor.

Terri Lanini, left, with Steve Rice, are the two youngest regular volunteers at the East Linn Museum, which, they say, needs some new blood.

“What’s funny is I discover stuff all the time after being here for, like, is it 14 years now?,” she said. “I go through and look in the cabinets and I still see stuff that I didn’t know was there.

“And we still get stuff,” she added, noting that a local resident was expected to bring some photos of the historic Ames family in a few days. “I’m really looking forward to that.”

Things are going well at the museum – financially, at least. Donors have been generous. Personnel, however, are another story.

About 10 dedicated volunteers keep the facility operating. In addition to Lanini and Rice, the most active include Gail Gregory, Glenda Hopkins, Nadine Jackson, Frances Thums, Helen and Jack Truskositz, Christine Hummel, Valerie Wallulis and Roberta Mc-Kern, who also serves as the board president.

Here’s the challenge, Lanini said: At 68, she’s by far among the youngest.

“Steve is just a couple of years older than I am,” she said, “but everybody else is at least 80.”

The museum was founded in 1976 in what was formerly a church building, partly constructed with a portion of the former Sunnyside School, which was moved to the site. The facility includes a large collection of historical items donated by Lois Robnett Rice, a descendant of early Sweet Home-area pioneers.

Its operations have always depended on dedicated volunteers. But those numbers are expected to drop this year, as several ponder retirement.

Not that they don’t enjoy the work.

“I’ve always been a history buff,” said Gregory, who moved to Sweet Home in 1958 to live with her aunt and uncle while attending Oregon State University. After graduating, she taught art at Sweet Home High School for 30 years. “My dad was that way too. He’d drag us around to all kinds of museums and stuff when we were little kids. So this is just one more museum.”

McKern, who had been involved in the National Frontier Trails Museum in Independence, Mo., before moving to Sweet Home, got involved along with her twin sister Catherine.

Thums has lived in the area since 1937, when her parents bought a place in the Brush Creek area.

“You like to delve into the things of the past, especially if you’ve lived here a little while,” she said.

“It’s more meaningful now, too, because we know all these generations of people,” Gregory added, gesturing around the hall filled with photos, old firearms, clocks and other artifacts. “I would say it’s fascinating if you’re interested in how old things worked and what different things you can see and how things have changed.”

“We have boxes and boxes of thousands of photos of Linn County in the area, if someone just wanted to sit down and look at pictures,” Lanini said.

Reinforcements are needed, she continued, adding that it’s a perfect gig for retirees interested in history.

“You don’t have to know how to do anything,” she said, explaining that new volunteers are paired with an experienced one. (The museum’s policy is that two volunteers must be present for the facility to be open.)

“The thing I worry about is [that] this place is so old,” she said. “And there’s not anybody here to really keep it clean. Nadine, so she’s a busy bee – she’ll vacuum and dust and all that stuff. If we could get somebody to come in that will just go around dusting – and we can give them little projects to do, like filing pictures or something in the file cabinet. They can read a book or just wander around the museum.

“We’re not looking for any professionals, by any means, because none of us were,” she continued, adding that most of the museum exhibits come with explainers attached.

“A lot of people tell me that they don’t know any of the history, or they’re taken aback by the fact that we have all these things,” Gregory said. “But I tell them, ‘It’s just really easy. Everything has a label on it.'”

“They don’t need to know the history, they don’t need to have grown up here,” Lanini said. “You don’t need to know how to use a computer. You don’t need to lead tours.

“I mean, you do as much or as little as you want. So if you want to come in and just look around, Steve brings his Bible study stuff and he’ll read a book or help whenever I need him to do something.”

Steve Rice points out a crossbow made by one of his relatives.

That said, most of the octogenarian volunteers aren’t comfortable with computers, so people who are more familiar with modern technology and the internet would be particularly valuable to the museum, which has no real online presence. Local students have volunteered in the past, particularly when Sweet Home Junior High teacher Lana Holden was involved, but they’ve moved on to post-high school interests.

The aging volunteers, together with other hurdles, have ended the museum’s Nativity Scene and Christmas open houses, but volunteers continue to lead local school classes and other groups and, Lanini noted, local geologist Robert Rose comes in once or twice a year to identify rocks submitted by the public, “which is a big hit.”

Lanini said visitors are often surprised when they walk through the door – even people who’ve lived in the community for a long time.

“We have people come in here and say, ‘I thought this was a church,'” she said. “I think for a lot of older people, they realize that this is their past. You know, they can see how it was before. It’s history. It all boils down to the history part of it.”

“It’s fascinating if you’re interested in old things, how they worked and what different things you can see and how things have changed,” Gregory said.

To learn more about volunteering at the museum, contact Lanini at (541) 543-5455 or email [email protected].