Museum History

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A Short History of the Desert Caballeros Western Museum

1960: Founded as a private non-profit institution by Morton Bodfish, Roy Coxwell, H. K. “Mac” MacLennan, Katherine McCrady, William Weeks
1966: name legally changed to Maricopa County Historical Society dba Desert Caballeros Western Museum
May 8, 1969: officially opens to the public, housed in the former Brayton’s Commercial Company building
December 21, 1972: fire consumes the entire building
January 1973: Las Señoras de Socorro auxiliary chartered as a non-profit with the intent to raise money for the rebuilding effort and to provide general operating funds and volunteer services
December 21, 1975: new building opens
September 1985: Eleanor Blossom Memorial Library added, along with new offices, increased work space for volunteers, and renovation of the gift shop
April 1987: 6,000 square feet added, including a new Native American Room, Mineral Room, expanded Art Gallery, classrooms and a new temperature-controlled storage area for the Museum’s art collection
November 26, 1988: museum park on the corner of Tegner and Wickenburg Way created to honor Museum Volunteers, featuring a nine-foot bronze sculpture, “Thanks for the Rain”, by artist Joe Beeler
1996: full accreditation attained from the American Association of Museums; subsequent accreditation in March 2008
Fall 2004: 160-acre Boyd Ranch acquired, with funding from Jane and Alex Boyd
March 2008: Charles T. Klein Pavilion opens, with major funding from the Frueauff Foundation and The Wellik Foundation
December 2011: Cultural Crossroads Learning Center opens, with major funding from Lynne and John Boyer and Harriet and Edson Spencer
November 2013: “Wickenburg’s West” exhibition opens in Quayle Family Gallery, with funding from the “Live It, Love It, Make It Last” capital campaign
January 2013: acquisition of the adjacent Shride property block completed for future expansion

Board Chairs
H.K. “Mac” MacLennan, founding chairman
Roy Coxwell, chairman for 25 years
Charles Klein, 1989-1990
Royce Coxwell Kardinal, 1990-1992
Elladean Hays Bittner, 1992-1994
Ron Badowski, 1994-1995
Eileen McGuire, 1995-1996
Joan McDermott, 1996
Ron Badowski, 1997
Joe Mendelson, 1998
Craig Keller, 1999
Paula Brill, 2000-2002
Elmer Johnson, 2003-2005
James Ludke, 2005-2007
Jeri Conklin Robson, 2007-2009
Dallas “Rusty” Gant, Jr., 2009-2011
John Daub, 2011-2013
Peter Schweitzer, 2013-present

Museum Directors
Orpha Baker, curator, 1969-1972
Harry Needham, volunteer, curator, director, executive VP, 1974-1984
Mac Harris, director, June 1985-February 1991
Chet Walker and Richard Doud, interim directors, February-July 1991
Cheryl Taylor, director, July 1, 1991-January 1, 1997
Myrna Harrison, interim director January-May 1997
Michael Ettema, director, May 1997-fall 2002
Joel Hiller, interim director, December 2002-October 2003
Royce Kardinal, interim director, October 2003-December 2003; executive director, December 2003-October 2008
Mary Ann Igna, interim director, November 2008-May 2010
W. James Burns, executive director, June 2010-August 2014
Sandra Harris, interim director September 2014-January 2015; executive director January 2015-present

Among the many generous individuals who have made the Museum possible, one deserves special mention: Aiken Fisher (1907-1996) who passionately committed to building the Museum’s Western art collection.

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