Grants, gifts help fund improvements to regional museum
PLAINVIEW – Though history never changes, the presentation of it is ever evolving at the Museum of the Llano Estacado, thanks to several gifts and grants.
A $35,000 grant from the Helen Jones Foundation topped the list, providing the funding for a new rear projection system in the museum auditorium and a video security system. The projector works with a large glass window that projects a clearer image and makes the auditorium much more useful for meetings and groups that rent the space, especially since many require video projection for presentations.
“We have about 10-12 groups use the auditorium every year, and some have several meetings each year,” said Rodney Watson, director of the museum, which is located on the campus of Wayland Baptist University as a shared entity of the city and the university. “We’re getting more and more inquiries about it, and it’s a good central location for regional meetings.”
The security system includes video cameras located throughout the facility, which was originally built in 1976 as part of the U.S. bicentennial celebration. A central monitoring system and video recording component are also included in the security package, making it easier to protect the valuables in the museum exhibits.
Born to a ranching family in West Texas, Helen DeVitt Jones was a graduate of the University of California at Berkeley and was a longtime proponent of education. The Helen Jones Foundation was formed in 1984 following her death in 1983 at age 98, carrying out her desire to use her financial blessings to fund philanthropic causes. She was an avid fan of the fine arts and of organizations working with public school and college students. The Foundation has continued to support such causes for nearly 25 years.
Also in the works is a portable sound system for the auditorium, to be tied into the video projection system and allow for much better sound quality. That package is funded with grants from Wal-Mart Distribution Center ($1,000), Atmos Energy ($400) and the Plainview Lions Club ($400).
The James and Eva Mayer Foundation provided the lead funding for construction of the Hale County Hall of Fame exhibit which is growing regularly. The Hale County Historical Commission has also provided some funding for the project.
A series of exhibits honoring local natives who have achieved success in a variety of fields, the Hall of Fame currently includes completed exhibits for singer and sausage king Jimmy Dean and former Miss Texas 1989 Leah Kay Lyle Gabriel. A few others are nearly completed, with most of the exhibit in place by the end of 2009.
“I have about four or five that are very close to being finished,” Watson said. “I have everything I need in hand but the storyboards.”
Some of those include opera singer Terry Cook, music group The Stringalongs, and some athletes. In addition to the larger exhibit windows, Watson plans to expand the Hall of Fame along a few adjacent walls to include framed photo collages with picture stories of other notables with Hale County ties.
Dean was able to visit his exhibit in September while in Plainview for a luncheon and plaque dedication honoring him and wife Donna for their generous $1 million donation to the university. And Gabriel visited the museum while in Plainview for the thanksgiving holidays with her family. Both were impressed with the final results.
In the past year, the museum wrapped up a three-year project of digitally scanning all the donated photos in the facility’s archives and will begin categorizing those more specifically. In addition, Watson said he wants to begin the scanning of archived documents as well.
“What we’d like to do is set this up online so people could access it for research,” he explained. “We have so many great things here in the archives but they’re hard to search right now.”
Once the exhibits are in place for the Hall of Fame, Watson said he plans to add a video and sound component to that exhibit, featuring the latest touch-screen technology that would allow visitors to listen to Dean’s recordings, Gabriel’s Miss Texas piano performance and other media on hand for the local notables. In his $1 million donation to the university, Dean designated a portion to help fund the technology and Watson is excited about the possibilities of adding multimedia.
He also envisions adding sound effects on motion detection and possible multimedia to the standing historical exhibits in the museum, which chronicle the Llano Estacado from prehistoric days to the present.
While changes on the inside continue, outside changes are also underway. In addition to new signage, four new red oak trees have been planted in the lower-level courtyard area outside the museum, adding to the natural beauty of that area. One tree was planted last winter in memory of Sonny Guffee, son of longtime museum director Eddie Guffee and wife Patti, and one of the newest trees is planted in memory of Eddie himself, who passed away in June 2008. Another tree was planted in memory of Linda Daniel, secretary in the office of enrollment management, who died in March 2008. Those trees were made possible by donations from friends, family and coworkers. The fourth tree was donated by Robert’s Tree House, which planted all four.
Watson said he hopes to add two more trees, an outside metal fence and a ramp for handicapped access to the area, then add outdoor tables and chairs to create a great sitting area or outside reception venue.
All of this, he said, is aimed at improving an already great museum and welcoming more guests to the facility. The changes are having an impact, as Watson said attendance has approached 7,000 the past few years, nearly doubling attendance from five years ago.
But he adds that without the community support and those who cherish the preservation of local and regional history, none of the changes would be possible.
“I’ve been extremely blessed to find community support for projects we’ve done over the years,” he added.
The museum is open Monday through Thursday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Friday from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. through the winter months. Saturday hours from 1-5 p.m. are in effect from April through November only.