For the love of history
Quakenbush finds niche at historical society.
By ANGIE HAFLICH
A love of nostalgia and history makes Steve Quakenbush’s new gig the perfect fit. As the new executive director of the Finney County Historical Society, the Garden City native said he is having a great time.
On Feb. 1, Quakenbush took the reins from retired Executive Director Mary Regan, who held the position for 25 years. His new office window faces a courtyard and part of the zoo.
“I can see the giraffes over there. My first day in, I kept hearing this noise that sounded like a cell phone on vibrate. Well, it was the lions at a distance. I guess you hear that from time to time,” Quakenbush said, with a slight grin.
Quakenbush made the decision to move out of his role at Garden City Community College, where he was the executive director of public relations for 24 years.
“Would I have moved (from GCCC) if this particular opportunity hadn’t come along? Probably not, but this just looked like the place I wanted to be, and I am just thoroughly enjoying every minute of it,” he said. “I grew up in Garden City and (my wife) Neva grew up in Deerfield. I can remember coming to the museum when I was a little kid, I can remember coming to the park and the zoo when I was a little kid, I remember looking at the old train, just all of that stuff, so to me this is just like coming back to where I was when I was a little kid.”
His enthusiasm about the new position is readily apparent when he shares all that both the Finney County Historical Society and the Finney County Museum have to offer.
“This is an outstanding resource for the community. People know that we have historical displays, but think we need to help people understand that, yes we have historical displays and exhibits, we have a lot of events that people can attend, but we also have the most unique gift store in town, right here in the museum,” he said. “We have things that are specific and unique to Finney County and to Garden City ... There is a research library in this building. People can come in and do genealogical research.”
Quakenbush really lights up when he speaks of all of the artifacts housed at the museum, including an old-fashioned horse drawn fire engine, old signs, and numerous other pieces that sit waiting their turns to be a part of an exhibit.
“When you see what’s on display in the galleries up front, that might be 10 percent of the artifacts in the museum. We have storage back here. We have everything from a 1930 Model-A and a horse-drawn carriage to an iron lung, tools and dishes and clothing and quilts, you name it, and all with a connection to Finney County or southwest Kansas,” he said. “So I just think it’s a wonderful job.”
So far, Quakenbush said he has been focusing on learning everything he can about his new position.
“I’m meeting with the staff, getting their ideas, asking what do we well, what could we do better. I’ve been to two meetings with our board of directors, and I’m working with them and learning a lot about the collection. I’m learning a lot about how we accept, or not, donated items for our (exhibits), and managing our day-to-day business and just all of that,” he said. “I think I have quite a bit to learn yet, because my predecessor, Mary Regan, was here for 25 years is still coming in part time for awhile, because there’s 25 years of experience to learn, so she’s still helping me get acclimated.”
As far as his own vision for the historical society and museum, Quakenbush said he is hoping to increase membership, increase participation in events and raise the level of awareness about the organization.
“I have some ideas, but honestly, I want to gather some other ideas first. Will we be doing some things differently a year from now? Yes. Do I know what those things are? No. I believe in listening and getting the lay of the land and I want to do that with our staff, with our board, with our membership and with the community and then look at things we might want to improve on. I think it’s a wonderful place that offers a lot to all different kinds of people in Finney County and southwest Kansas and I think the museum, and the society, has done a wonderful job of that. I just want to do even more,” he said. “This was a chance to do all kinds of new things and I’m doing new things with old things. What I’ve told other people is, ‘I guess you could say it took me 24 years to get through Garden City Community College and now I’m history.’”