Grand opening inaugurates new era at Old Main

The Weekly Bulletin – January 26, 2016

The sleepy school grounds of Old Main came alive once again when the Patagonia Museum held a grand opening at the historic hilltop building on Saturday, Jan. 23.

“We hope this facility will be our permanent home,” museum president German Quiroga told those in attendance. He thanked those who helped facilitate the Patagonia Museum’s mission to preserve and collect the history and culture of southern Santa Cruz County.

Denise Blake, Patagonia Schools principal and superintendent for the last five years, said the partnership between the school and Patagonia Museum was a “natural fit.” The museum will not only help preserve what has been documented as the longest continuously operating school in the state, but also provide a place where people can continue to learn, she said.

Blake also described Old Main as a “matriarch” that has served as a foundation for many Patagonia families and, in the past, a community gathering place.

“We wanted to make that happen again,” Blake said, adding that she hopes Old Main will remain “a beacon” for the Patagonia community well into the next century.

“We recognize the Patagonia Museum and all the members who worked so hard to make it happen,” Blake said. “We are looking forward as you continue to nurture our community and preserve this beautiful community and school.”

The Patagonia Museum signed a contract with Patagonia Public Schools in October to promote awareness and appreciation of the history and culture of eastern Santa Cruz County by providing displays, exhibits and demonstrations at the former school. The Patagonia Museum will also maintain the historic building for current use and future generations as part of a renewable contract that expires June 30, 2017.

State Rep. Chris Ackerley (R-Sahuarita) described how many Arizona youth who grow up around cookie-cutter homes and strip malls never get to see increasingly rare places such as Patagonia.

Ackerley said he hoped the Patagonia Museum will become a destination, giving both youth and adults an excuse to travel out of the suburbs to rural southern Arizona, which he described as an “amazing place” that “needed to be celebrated.”

State Rep. Rosanna Gabaldon (D-Sahuarita) said the Old Main partnership between Patagonia Schools and the Patagonia Museum is a reminder to visitors of what a small community can do.

“When I see all of you here today giving back to their community, it makes me feel very happy because it’s part of what we learned and are teaching our younger population – to give back,” Gabaldon said. “This building will continue to serve as a reminder of the history of Patagonia and the history of the people who grew up here and have come to live here.”

U.S. Rep. Raul Grijalva said the museum not only represents a legacy of Patagonia and its history but also what the town continues to be.

Grijalva then presented a flag to the museum that had flown over the U.S. Capitol building as “a small token of not only appreciation but for the hard work on this historic site and for all the people that helped make it happen.”

Quiroga in turn dedicated the flag to four dedicated and cherished members of the Patagonia Museum who have since died: Ramon Quiroga, George Proctor, Walter Andrew and Joan Wood.

The Arizona Rangers conducted the flag raising ceremony.

Inside the building, attendees, including a handful of Old Main alumni, took in the historic photography exhibits as well as the chalk boards that had been converted into art murals though a collaboration of the Patagonia Creative Arts Center and students from the Patagonia Public School.

New officers

In addition, the Patagonia Museum held its annual meeting that included the election of its officers. They were President German Quiroga, vice-president Robert Ollerton, treasurer Mary Jane Pottebaum, secretary Bea Quiroga and members-at-large Ralph Schmitt and Bob Bergier.

Future projects were also discussed, including the ongoing renovation at the historic Lochiel Schoolhouse, which can be visited by appointment as well as the oral history project and local highway clean-up.

The meeting was followed by a presentation by guest speaker Michael Brescia, research curator at the Arizona State Museum, who spoke on the topic of  “Water Rights and Grazing on the Babocómari Ranch: Legacies of the Gadsden Purchase in Southern Arizona.”