New museum director starts Monday

Ron Burtz

Increasing visitation to Custer’s 1881 Courthouse Museum is one of the personal goals of the organization’s new director. Jeanie Kirkpatrick of Keystone was recently hired to replace former director Gary Enright who retired in December and will begin her duties Monday.
A native of Iowa, Kirkpatrick graduated from Iowa State University with degrees in history and anthropology and went on to earn her master’s in interdisciplinary studies. The school did not offer a degree in museum studies, so Kirkpatrick created her own master’s in the discipline, choosing historical aprons as the subject of her thesis.
She said she chose that subject because “it seems like women get lost in history” and she “thought aprons also told a lot about the women who wore them.”
Kirkpatrick enjoys the subject because it brings back positive memories for many people and often puts a smile on their faces.
Her research focused on aprons from between 1894 and 1944 and she eventually turned her research into a book.
After graduating in 2015, Kirkpatrick applied for a position with the National Park Service and was a seasonal ranger at Mt. Rushmore, hoping to secure a full-time position. She worked there off and on four seasons and in the off-season became director of the Keystone Historical Museum which occupies the former Keystone schoolhouse built in 1900. She currently lives in Keystone with her husband and 13-year-old son. Her daughter, 25, is still in Iowa.
Recently, while working at the Hill City Chamber of Commerce, Kirkpatrick saw the ad for the opening in Custer and was eager to apply because she missed working in a museum.
“I love to get that hidden history out where people can enjoy it,” she explained.
Kirkpatrick said she looks forward to meeting with the board of directors and volunteers to learn what their goals are for the museum. Personally, she wants to increase visitation at the old courthouse.
“It holds so much history,” said Kirkpatrick, noting that tourists often visit Mt. Rushmore and the other usual attractions, but don’t understand things like why the streets are so wide in Custer. (Drivers of teams of oxen needed to be able to make a U-turn in the middle of the street.)
Part of that strategy will include having more public events to showcase the museum’s collections and she said she hopes to lure out-of-state visitors to attend those events.
Having learned that nearby Black Hills Burger & Bun has pagers for those waiting for tables that will reach to the museum, Kirkpatrick quipped, “I’m thinking of using that as a marketing strategy.”
Speaking of her predecessor, Kirkpatrick said she hopes to keep the museum up to Enright’s standards.
“I have some big shoes to fill,” she said. “Gary was there for many years and I got to know him, which was great.”  
The first public event on the museum’s 2021 calendar is an Ice Cream Social May 23, the day before the facility officially opens for the summer. The Custer County Historical Society event will take place at the museum from 1-3 p.m.
Museum hours this year will be 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday.

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