Tulare Historical Museum
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 the relics of Tulare's unique history. The Board of Directors organized several 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 Sturgeon's tireless work on behalf of the museum, they named the main exhibit hall in his honor.
Within two years, they raised nearly enough capital to build the first phase, a 7400 square foot structure designed specifically to house a modern museum. In 1982 they appointed a building committee - Douglas Barnes, Architect; Pete Chavez; Ellen Gorelick, Norm Griesbach; Bob Soults; Gerry Soults; and Budge Sturgeon.
The site chosen for the building was historic, replacing the century-old Central School in the 400 block of West Tulare Avenue. In 1983 construction began, 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), Tulare's founding 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. Besides 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 three 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.