Twenty years ago in May, Jim Wetzel was named curator and director of the Delta Museum. Because of unscheduled emergency surgery, he arrived on the job in a wheelchair and with just one day to learn everything he needed to know to take over.
"At the time, I did not really know what the position involved, but I was willing to find out," he said in his final newsletter as museum director.
Although Wetzel is retiring as museum director, he was one of three individuals elected to the board of trustees of the Delta County Historical Society at its annual meeting May 5. Wetzel also plans to serve as a museum volunteer, so he can finish up a couple of projects, but he also intends to travel, spend more time in the garden and write a couple more books. He is the author of four books, three of which he said were written to correct events that he felt were poorly documented by earlier writers.
Although not a "local," Wetzel said the history of this area captured his interest from the get-go. In his final newsletter as museum director, he wrote, "It wasn't only the events or buildings that captured my interest, but the people that made it the community we enjoy today."
"The Delta County Historical Society had its beginning in 1964," Wetzel wrote in the newsletter, "and with this beginning, collections of historic value were documented and exhibited, or stored for the future education of citizens of all ages. It is probably the most important part of museum work. Preservation of our history is important, but if the historic artifact or document cannot be readily located in the museum, it has no value to the researcher or family member wanting to see 'my great-grandmother's wedding dress.' With over 20,000 artifacts in our museum, you can appreciate how important this is."
When asked about the highlights of his 20-year career, Wetzel pointed to the many volunteers he's worked with over the years, plus the foresight of those pioneers who documented and preserved our history.
Keith Lucy, president of the museum's board of directors, said the board has interviewed two qualified candidates for the position of part-time museum director and hopes to make a decision within a couple of weeks.
The challenge is that there is little or no pay. "It had been the plan, after Jim's retirement, to operate the museum on a fully volunteer basis, but the reality of finding a volunteer to perform this function has been difficult, if not possible," Lucy said.
The trustees have submitted a proposal to Delta County administrator Robbie LeValley in hopes the county will help fund a contract employee to manage the museum. In the meantime, Lucy said, the historical society, a nonprofit organization, will have to dip into reserve funds. Additional volunteers are also needed to ensure the museum is open to the public five days a week this summer. For more information, call Lucy at 970-433-1650 or stop by the museum at the corner of 3rd and Meeker.