Milliken Museum turns eye to brighter future

By Corey Pride / Cpride@losbanosenterprise.comFebruary 7, 2013 

After a 2012 that saw the facility shut down, a break-in and the death of its curator, the Milliken Museum is moving forward with what it hopes will be a prosperous 2013.

"We had a major transition in 2012. I'm really proud of how we've come through that, we've got a really strong base of support," Milliken Museum Society member Dan Nelson said. "I'm really actually excited about 2013. I think everyone's really excited about the future of the museum."

The Milliken Museum, which opened as the Henry Miller Museum in 1958, displays local history of the Westside. Items that belonged to Miller, the town's founder, can be seen alongside Yokut Indian artifacts, work and recreational items donated by families who've lived in the area for generations and a plethora of pictures and written interviews of people and places in Los Banos dating back to the 1800s.

The museum, now named for its first curator, Ralph Milliken, has not had it easy the past 12 months.

For several weeks last year and in 2011, the museum was closed and fenced off as soil contamination was removed from its Pacheco Park location. In March, the facility suffered a break-in and several items were stolen.

"We were able to get most of the stuff back," Nelson said. "We've increased our security and we're moving forward."

After the break-in, historian and museum curator Charles Sawyer died.

About 15 years ago, Nelson developed an interest in history and began working closely with Sawyer. Nelson, who has taken on a role as curator since Sawyer's death, is quick to say he could never replace Sawyer. The bulk of the credit for the museum continuing to operate belongs to eight to 10 volunteers, the facility's one employee and local financial supporters, he said.

The museum has many items that cannot be displayed because of space constraints. Nelson said the museum also receives a steady stream of donations.

"We're either looking at adding on to this space or finding a new space, that's our No. 1 goal," Nelson said.

The museum has a lot of Boy and Girl Scouts tour the facility as well as classes on field trips. Nelson said he and museum volunteers have found a way to keep the younger generation entertained.

"As opposed to showing them around and giving them lectures -- where their eyes glaze over in 30 seconds -- we found they like scavenger hunt-type things. We have pictures of items in the museum and they have to go and find them," Nelson said. "It makes an impression. We find when they come back they do remember this stuff."

The Milliken Museum received a grant a few years ago that allowed it to purchase badly needed modern computer equipment.

"We got our first sophisticated computer two and a half, three years ago, it's just powerful enough to do something," Nelson said. "With the other one, we used to keep addresses."

Nelson said the most important item the museum has is a scanner, which allows personnel to digitally store items, such as written interviews by original settlers, that are becoming frail.

Nelson said he would like to incorporate social media into the museum's outreach.

"We're just on the front end of how we use social media and better tell Los Banos' story," he said.

The Milliken Museum is open Tuesday through Sunday from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m.

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