In the beginning…

Old Main Begins New Life as the Patagonia Museum

Reminiscing thanks to the Patagonia Regional Times…

The bell at Old Main School tolled twice on Saturday, once to mark the beginning of the museum’s opening ceremony and again at the end. It was a beautiful day to commemorate the new Patagonia Museum, and the opening attracted a wide circle of locals, many of whom went to school at Old Main, and others who were pleased to see what began as a glimmer of an idea become a reality.

The crowd gathered at the west entrance to listen to German Quiroga, president of the museum board, who welcomed everyone and introduced the morning’s speakers. Denise Blake, superintendent of schools, spoke first, followed by state representatives Chris Ackerley and Rosanna Gabaldon. Blake, who was instrumental in putting together the agreement with the museum, reminded the audience that Old Main was well built for its time and has endured as the longest continuously utilized elementary school facility in Arizona until May of 2014 when all classes were consolidated at the main campus. She called the building a “dear friend” and “a foundation for many families.”

Chris Ackerely made the point that Patagonia was a wonderful place to grow up. Now a high school physics teacher in Tucson, he pointed north and said, “Kids up there never see anything but Styrofoam and strip malls.”

Last to arrive was Congressman Raul Grijalva. He brought a specially designated American flag from Washington, DC that had flown over the capital. The flag was officially dedicated to four strong supporters of the museum who have died in recent years: Ramon Quiroga, Joan Wood, Walter Andrew, and George Proctor. Following the speeches, a team of three Arizona Rangers stepped up and ceremoniously raised the flag.

After that it was time to show off the schoolrooms that are now the museum. The rooms and hallway of Old Main have high ceilings that are filled with natural light, making them bright and spacious. Patty Cooper, who taught there for many years, found herself in tears. “I didn’t think it would affect me this way,” she said. Kate Musick, another beloved teacher, said that the impact of seeing the old classrooms was less difficult as she’d been spending time there helping get the museum set up.

Volunteers had been working hard for the past week or so to clean the school and the grounds, and everything sparkled. The chalkboards were filled with colorful, playful images created by students, and the museum displays, many of which were part of the Journey Stories exhibition at the library, are now in their new home, awaiting their final placement.

There is still plenty of work to be done. Once the displays are organized, the museum hopes to be open Thursday through Saturday from 2-4 p.m. If they can get enough volunteer docents, they will extend those hours. The museum will train docents to be familiar with museum materials and Patagonia history.

While visitors toured the museum’s new quarters, museum members gathered in one of the rooms for their annual meeting. Board president German Quiroga said that the museum has received several grants and made several thousand dollars from this year’s trip to Banamichi, Mexico, so they are in good shape financially. The budget for the coming year includes funds for museum displays, as well as chalk boards and hardwood flooring for the school house at Lochiel, which have been ordered. Once these are installed, the Lochiel restoration will be complete. On January 30 there will be a workday there and visitors are welcome.

Quiroga said that the museum would not be where it is without the considerable help of Bob Ollerton and Ralph Schmitt. Members unanimously elected Quiroga to continue as president. Dr. Michael Brescia, a professor of history at the University of Arizona, ended the meeting with a talk about the Babocomari Land Grant and the ongoing conflicts that arise from Spanish law being interpreted in U.S. courts.

Guests were invited to join in a luncheon that was served after the meeting.

Congratulations to the museum board and all who helped to bring the Patagonia Museum to life!