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After a quarter century at the helm, Gordon Gillespie to retire from Bowman Museum

RON HALVORSON/FOR THE CENTRAL OREGONIAN
 - The Bowman Museum has become one of the best small-town museums in the West under the leadership of Director Gordon Gillespie. Come February, he will retire after 25 years as director.

The A.R. Bowman Museum has been in a near-constant state of change the last few years.

From new, top-notch displays to the widely acclaimed History Center, as well as the acquisition of the old Hans' Pharmacy property and recent addition of the City of Prineville Railway caboose, the museum has continued to demonstrate why it is one of Crook County's most beloved institutions.

More change is on the horizon when Gordon Gillespie, its director for nearly 25 years, retires on Feb. 10, when he turns 65.

"It just seemed like a good time to do it, move on and do something else," he said.

A native of Canada, Gillespie came to Prineville via San Diego, California, where he obtained a degree in history, and then from Bellingham, Washington. One wet spring traveling to California for a visit, as the story goes, he and his then-wife decided to drive through Central Oregon and fell in love with the region. The next year they found themselves in Bend, saw an ad for a job in Prineville for his wife, and decided to drive over.

They were captured by the view coming into town, and by early summer, the Gillespies were new residents.

Their first weekend here found them at a celebration in the park, where the Historical Society was recruiting new members. Gillespie joined. A month later, he saw an ad for a Saturday worker at the museum. He applied, was hired, and on Aug. 8, 1992, unknowingly began a decades-long career.

"I might have only been here two weeks when Frances Juris (local historian) came in. She said, 'Do you mind if I sit with you awhile and tell you a little bit about the history?' So she did."

Juris had worked on a local history book and was planning on a second, Gillespie related. She thought he should head up the effort, to which he agreed.

"It meant that I would go every month and give a presentation to the (museum) board of directors, and she introduced me all around, and I'd go talk to Rotary, and things like that. By the time this (the director's position) became open, I was somewhat well-known."

He took the reins on June 15, 1993.

Three things, Gillespie said, became priorities to him, and have become what he's most proud of during his tenure: organization and care of artifacts; expansion; and funding.

Gillespie affectionately referred to the "Jim Beam and Jack Daniels method of storage," as the way artifacts were first curated.

RON HALVORSON/FOR THE CENTRAL OREGONIAN
 - The Bowman Museum has earned national acclaim under Gillepsie's leadership. He says he won't be a "nuisance" in his retirement. "There was so much stuff, and the budget was very, very small," he recalled. "There were liquor boxes full of artifacts, and that's all you saw in the storage area. A big goal for me was to improve collection storage and care."

An obvious need was more space, not only for curation, but for meetings and other functions. This led to a major acquisition of neighboring property and construction of the History Center.

"We couldn't do anything there (Bowman building). We always had to go someplace else for meetings and so forth. Expansion was already in my mind."

Gillespie said the expansion project was the scariest thing in the world for him, especially since they didn't have all the money to start with, and it was happening during the 2008 recession.

"We just started out asking people (for financial support), and talking to people," he said. "We thought it would be a million and a half dollars, but it ended up being almost two million by the time we finished. Being part of some community effort like that, I just never had experienced that."

Now, with more space, artifacts are wrapped in tissue paper and stored in acid-free boxes. Special museum software allows them to be catalogued and retrieved when needed.

Gillespie is the first to give credit where due.

"This place could not have happened without our volunteers, and of course, we've added staff."

Then there's the endowment fund.

"I'd always wanted to try and develop a large endowment fund," he added, "so that they weren't so reliant on other kinds of support."

A $5,000 donation established the fund in 1996. Gillespie thought it might have $400,000 today.

"We've been very effective increasing our funding through various opportunities over the years."

Along with the staff "who've become friends," he said, he's also going to miss the excitement of the various plans, and watching them come to fruition.

"Right now, we're every bit in expansion mode as we were with this building. I feel like I've been so involved so long, it is difficult."

His hope is that the new director will be someone with technological savvy — a "millennial," perhaps, who can take the museum places a "boomer" couldn't. But he also has a word of caution.

"It's amazing what they've done in this community. We are built on every single volunteer hour, every staff member that had a deep interest and a sincere passion for doing it. The number one thing that people should have is a deep respect for the community and what they've accomplished."

He said he doesn't have any big plans, maybe some traveling, more cycling, and maybe some advocacy work for various causes dear to his heart. No matter what, he said he will not become a "nuisance."

"This is exactly how it's going to happen," he explained. "I'm just going to turn in my keys and walk away, wish them the best, and come back and watch a few events. I'll always support it."

Speaking of Gordon...

"He always has an idea, and they're the best ideas. He's just been a great guy to work with. He's been a wonderful boss. It's going to take a really exceptional person to replace him." — Eloise Brummer, museum staff

"Gordon Gillespie has been the most effective person we could ever find to bring our Bowman Museum from a nice little one into a great, big respectable one. I've been so proud of the work he's done here." — Frances Juris, long-time local historian

"I really appreciated how he took personal responsibility for implementing all of the major decisions that the various committees and Historical Society made. He was very frugal with the funds that we had. He brought consensus and harmony to the administration of the museum. He will be hard to replace." — Jan Anderson, Crook County Historical Society president.

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