"She's still only halfway through,"
Among the thousands of myriad pieces of oilfield memorabilia, even the movie theater's window is a story, and Joe's a natural storyteller. A compulsive storyteller.
A walk through the oil museum alongside the only director it's ever known takes a mite longer than the recommended hour-and-a-half.
Take, for instance, the Tea Leaf China in
Or, nearby, a baby doll. Appraised at more than
Here's a wedding gown, handmade by the bride.
There's a pair of red boots. The donor once made regular trips to keep them oiled.
"It was going to the landfill. It would have been crushed," Joe says. "
"Just so many things and everything has a story." Retiring, Joe is turning over the museum's reins and the director's title --
Joe's not finished, however. There's still work ahead for ETOM's recently-dubbed "Director Emeritus." Among other duties,
"It's not often that a person gets to be on the ground floor of a venture like the
Joe's career at KC predates his 37 years with the oil museum, and his relationship with the school stretches even further back. A
"There was an effort long before 1977.
With the involvement and funding of
"Placid would fund construction, the people of
Joe, along with
"For a little over three years we were out going through barns, store rooms and garages," Joe says. "Cutting stuff off rigs that had gone up in the woods. Fighting bumblebee and yellow jacket nests ... We would find things, and I would haul them."
In one home, "We could've taken an 18-wheeler and loaded it up. It was like a candy store."
Faced with choosing an oil museum director in 1980, then-KC President Dr.
"He needed someone on the ground here with a working knowledge of the oilfield and its history and all," Joe explained. Joe will soon relocate from his office in the oil museum to the other side of
Holda has three primary tasks for the director emeritus.
First will be the archival of the museum's history, be it a written or verbal transcription, and of its remaining cache of stored items.
"Joe is the only person that knows a lot of the story behind almost every item in the museum ... In his own right, Joe is sort of a folk character himself," Holda said. "We're going to try to capture that while we can."
Likewise, KC will lean on his research skills.
"There's still some individuals in town, many of them in their 90s, who remember the early days of the boom, who were there," Holda explained. "We're going to set up some interviews with Joe and those individuals we can tape."
Fundraising will round out the Joe's new job description. The museum is now funded through a mixture of donations and grants in addition to admission fees. For years, Joe has cultivated a network of donors, corresponding regularly to bolster the collection's coffers. He's undertaking his fourth campaign to help fund maintenance and operations.
"He requests the amount of money that is the age of the oilfield. He raises probably about
It came a gusher: in his time, Joe has seen more than 1.5 million visitors pass through the museum since
"Young people who came when they were in fourth grade are now bringing their children," he says. "Other people say, 'Every time we have out-of-town company this is where we bring them.'"
But while it's a major attraction, Joe adds, the museum is part of an industry that's hurting. Tourism traffic everywhere is dropping off. There are more and more seats open on the charter buses that drop by.
"There are so many who have not made their first trip to the
"We're sitting here with one of the neatest living museums in the county. They tell me this museum touches all the senses. Being around here so long, I still need to hear people praise it."
It's been a good run: connecting past and present, welcoming guests of all ages from all over the world, finding lost treasures and sharing memories.
Like the ticket-taker's window: an overeager visitor with a heavy college ring tried to reach through the gap, Joe says. He left a permanent mark. More than three decades since, one more story to tell.
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