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Archive for Thursday, January 30, 2003

Challenge ahead

January 30, 2003

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The people of Douglas County should give the new director of Watkins Community Museum their full support.

High hopes and expectations await the new director of the Watkins Community Museum of History.

Rebecca Phipps, curator and assistant director of the Carroll House Museum in Leavenworth, will start work next month as director of the Watkins museum and, as County Commissioner Bob Johnson observed, the new job presents a real challenge for the 28-year-old historian.

It's a challenge not only for Phipps, but also for the community.

Watkins museum is a gem that could be the cornerstone of historical research and tourism in Lawrence and Douglas County. It has a wonderful collection housed in one of the city's most historic buildings. There is no reason that it shouldn't be a major center of educational and social activity for thousands of visitors -- both local and out of town -- each year.

It is unfortunate that dissension within the museum staff and the Douglas County Historical Society, which oversees the museum, has kept the museum from reaching its full potential. Many well-meaning people, including former director Steve Jansen, have put much time and effort into the museum over the years, but the program of the museum never seemed to live up to the building. It should be noted that the building itself may present challenges, particularly if Phipps and her staff are successful in enlarging the museum's collection.

The first challenge the new director will face is to unite the community and rally what should be hundreds of willing volunteers to boost museum programming and visitor services. As described by her current boss, Phipps sounds like the right person for the job.

"She'll be a great administrator," said Mark Bureman, administrator for the Carroll House. "She has high standards; she's a professional; she's a workaholic and she has the energy of youth."

Someone who can work well both with the staff and community may be the key to getting the museum finances and programming back on track. Hopefully, the energy Phipps brings to the job will spread to other people interested in the fascinating history of Lawrence and Douglas County.

The Watkins museum is all about the past, but when it comes to the personnel and financial problems faced by the museum in recent years, it's time to put the past behind us. Last week, the historical society sponsored an event to honor the many community contributions of Elizabeth Watkins, who donated the former bank building, which now houses the museum, to the city. There could be no greater tribute to Watkins or anyone involved in the history of Lawrence and Douglas County than for the community to give its full support to Phipps in her efforts to lead Watkins museum to a prosperous and productive future.

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