by Derryl Dumermuth
With many pieces of Tulare’s fascinating early history rapidly disappearing, victims of fire, neglect or the wrecking ball, a group of concerned citizens met in June 1980 to organize the Tulare City Historical Society. Since then, it has enrolled over 1200 loyal members. The first Board of Directors included John Conway, President; Marjory Kanady, Vice-President; Sally Curti, Secretary; Betty Pribil, Treasurer; John R. Berryhill; Antoinette Chatman; Tom Kirkbride; Elrena Lagomarsino; Louise Longan; Doris Minyard; Warden Nelson; Dorothy Sarkisian; C.R. Sturgeon; Cleota Sullivan; Steven G. Sullivan; Alice Topham; and Mary Lou Wills.
The initial step was to raise enough money to build a state-of-the-art museum designed to preserve and protect relics of Tulare’s unique history. The Board of Directors organized a number of fund-raising events - yard sales, luncheons, banquets, etc. But most of the $375,000 needed for the first phase came from outright gifts donated by generous Tulareans. C.R. "Budge" Sturgeon soon became known as the chief fundraiser. He once joked that when his friends saw him coming, they would hide behind a tree, for they knew he was after more money. In recognition of his tireless work on behalf of the museum, the main exhibit hall is named in his honor.
Within two years nearly enough capital had been raised to build the first phase, a 7400 square foot structure designed specifically to house a modern museum. In 1982 a building committee was appointed - Douglas Barnes, Architect; Pete Chavez; Ellen Gorelick, Norm Griesbach; Bob Soults; Gerry Soults; and Budge Sturgeon.
The site chosen for the building was itself historic, replacing the century-old Central School in the 400 block of West Tulare Avenue. Construction was begun in 1983, completed in 1984, and the museum opened its doors to the public on November 16, 1985. A second phase completed in 1992, with Dr. Tom Nagy chairman of the building committee, added 4700 square feet and included much needed office space, another exhibit hall (named in honor of Bob and Gerry Soults), an assembly hall (the Heritage Room) and a kitchen.
Artfully arranged exhibits tell the stories of the original inhabitants of the area (the Yokuts), the founding of Tulare by the Southern Pacific Railroad, and the indomitable pioneers who persevered against overwhelming odds. Visitors have the opportunity to peek inside Tulare homes and business establishments, as they appeared more than a century ago. In addition to offering guided tours of the exhibits, the museum schedules changing displays of original art in the Heritage Room.
The museum is the repository of two truly unique collections. The Bob Mathias exhibit consists of scores of medals, trophies and souvenirs collected by this Tulare native during his incredible athletic and political career. Even the gold medals won at the 1948 and 1952 Olympics are on display. The Manuel Toledo collection showcases hundreds of military memorabilia collected by this decorated World War II hero.
Governed by an elected Board of Trustees, the museum is operated by a professional staff of four employees, assisted by nearly 100 volunteers. Since John Conway's tenure, seventeen Tulareans have served as president of the Historical Society - Gerri Soults; Budge Sturgeon; Prudence Oleson; Donna Shoemaker; Ione Waite; Bilie Fry; David Bisconer; Verne Amon; Libby Jameson; Derryl Dumermuth; Thomas Nagy; Connie Conway; Jerry Hastings; Marjorie Risi; Cathy Mederos; Dolly Faria; and Joe Soares.
Derryl Dumermuth is a retired TUHS mathematics teacher, coordinator of the docent program at the Tulare Historical Museum, author of A Town Called Tulare, and co-author with wife Wanda of Tulare Legends and Trivia from A to Z.
Tulare Historical Museum