Patricia Cosgrove used to say that she and the White River Valley Museum’s board of directors to date had changed everything about the institution since her first day on the job in 1990 – everything, that is, except the plumbing.
Then, those old pipes got the do-over, too.
Last week, WRVM’s longtime director and its first professional hire had one last thing to say about time and change: seems even museum directors are not immune to them.
On Tuesday of last week, Cosgrove informed one of her training and staff meetings that she would retire in mid-to-late October.
“I’m 63, and at some point you begin to slow down and run out of ideas a little; you have to dig a little deeper for them, and I’ve been there for a while,” Cosgrove explained.
She said she could have stepped away at any time in the last year but stayed on to front one more version of “Suffer for Beauty,” WRVM’s recurring ladies’ underwear exhibit, and to launch her final exhibit, this one about Sasquatch.
She will not be alone or idle in her golden years.
“My boyfriend, Rich, lives and works in Wenatchee, so for six years we’ve lived apart except for weekends, and he’s going to retire when I do, so I’ll get to have a full-time partner. That will be delightful, a huge motivator to do this together,” Cosgrove said.
She also hopes to travel to France to train with Cavalia founder and equestrian trainer Frederic Pignon, train her border collie, Zip, to herd, perhaps even help out at the Mary Olson Farm or write a few grants as needed.
“When you work for a city, you are so fortunate to have a nice benefit package of the sort that doesn’t happen very often these days. I’ll be on a smaller budget, but I’ll have a budget, so I can manage,” Cosgrove said.
In her wake, Cosgrove will leave raft of transformations seen and unseen, but summing to a ceiling-to-studs remake that would probably leave the historical society’s founders slack-jawed.
How it started
In 1990, founding members of the historical society, looking around, seeing the same faces who’d founded the museum 20 years or so earlier but aging, approached then-Mayor Bob Roegner to discuss a succession plan for the museum. He was receptive.
“Got get the museum,” Roegner directed the City Parks Department
In November of 1990, the City hired then 35-year-old Cosgrove, who had a master’s degree in museology and had worked in museums for 15 years, to form a relationship between the volunteer historical society board and the City, and to figure out how the city and the non profit could work together. The result was a Museum Services Agreement (MSA) that codifies the partnership between the Historical Society and the City.
Two years in, the City hired Cosgrove to run the museum, then on an operating budget of $14,000.
At the time, the exhibits looked like what one might find in any small-town museum in America: behind this pink pegboard divider everything that could fit in a dining room display, then behind that pink pegboard over there a living room or a parlor scene, then on the other side of one more pink pegboard, a kitchen.
“My predecessors had built a building, they had some money in the bank, they had amassed a really good artifact collection, but they weren’t much for cataloging it and organizing it. Being untrained, they knew to set up a generic room displays where you could see old things. And they gave good lectures and did programs, and they actually had a pretty strong support system throughout the community,” Cosgrove said.
“So, it was not an easy task to gain their trust,” Cosgrove said, “and that was what I did all the time for a number of years – work to gain their trust. It didn’t work with everybody, but it worked with a majority of them. I developed this little adage: that I would out-live them or out-love them. I remember Doris Ramstead, a very colorful character, saying to me, ‘Gosh, I wish they’d hired a man; I just don’t like getting along with women.’ I said, well, thanks!”
Museum pioneer and former newspaper publisher Al Leslie spent nearly every day in Cosgrove’s office to support her, and his widow, Ruth, volunteered at the museum until she was 99 years of age.
“Those were years with a lot of difficulty, but we kept making headway, building some better, more interpretive exhibits, trying to take care of the artifact collection and cataloging the photographs. Over those many years we moved from having a board of directors composed of museum volunteers to a working board to a policy-setting board composed of skilled civic leaders,” Cosgrove said.
As the museum’s budget grew over time – its 2018 operating budget is $620,000-plus – Cosgrove began working with the City to bring in other professional staff, hired a part-time then a full-time collections caretaker, and a part-time educator then a full-time educator.
In 1996, the WRVM started raising money and making plans to renovate the museum. It replaced a ghastly heating system and added a cooling system bristling with the sort of environmental controls a museum needs to have. It rebuilt the permanent exhibit and Auburn architect Al Keimig helped reshape the interior walls pro bono. In 1998, WRVM rebuilt and reopened its permanent exhibit. In 2001, it added a classroom and a storage warehouse wing and created a gallery to showcase two to three temporary shows a year.
During Cosgrove’s career with the City, she said, each dollar the city invested in the MSA earned the non-profit $1.05.
Work on the farm
In 1994 the City bought the turn-of-the-20th century Mary Olsen Farm on Green River Road, and the museum began the tough task of raising funds to preserve and restore it.
“I don’t think it’s possible to describe how hard that work was,” Cosgrove said. “And I took it all very personally, which meant that I spent probably a few years being mad at the world because it was so hard! But eventually, in little bits and pieces, between 1998 and 2011, we raised $2.5 million or so. We restored all of the historic buildings and the historic orchard and the gardens and landscape, and then we started to create programming to introduce the site to the public.”
The cornerstone of that effort is the field trip program, which Cosgrove developed and designed. In her tenure, 38,000 students have visited the museum and 23,000 students have visited the farm. Those numbers grow by about 5,500 a year, as first-graders learn where their food comes from, milk a life-size fiberglass cow, make cider in the orchard, dig up potatoes, feed the chickens, sweep the barn and make milk, in a setting that is just as much education as anything else they do.
With eighth-graders, the emphasis comes down more on the science side of things as they watch salmon spawn and learn about stream ecology and the water cycle.
And of course, there’s the annual September Hops and Crops micro-brew festival at the farm, a nod to Mary Olson, who is known to have raised hops.
“Our education and events person, Rachel McAllister, does a fabulous job getting 10-to-15 microbreweries there every year and wonderful bands. When I go around, I think I’m going to introduce people to the farm and to a person they tell me, ‘Oh, we’ve been here every year.’
“Every single time I go to the farm, I pretty much choke up. I think for a lot of people it’s their happy place. We have been blessed with amazing contractors. A couple have stayed with us, even changed their lives so they could continue to work at the farm,” Cosgrove said.
To date, she has raised more than $2,400,000 to restore the farm.
In recent years, Cosgrove has turned her attention to the preservation and enhancement of Pioneer Cemetery.
‘It’s a little bit like the farm in that it holds a lot of emotion and has some very unique, sweet stories to tell. I will be leaving it with a plan for restoration and some major grants written and things, but unless I’m contracted to work on it or something, that will be the end of that. Somebody else will get to make those restorations come true,” Cosgrove said.
Leaving it all will not be easy. “I’m very proud of the legacy that I have been allowed to work on and make happen here. And for several years, retiring from it is something I have been trying to get my brain ready to accept. It’s almost like leaving a child, especially the farm, because it’s just so full of good feelings and love,” Cosgrove said.