Museum board approves County elected officials request for reception at Pioneer Museum, with conditions

(The bar in the Fremont County Pioneer Museum. Joshua Scheer photo.)

(Riverton, Wyo.) – The Fremont County Museum Board agreed Thursday to allow the elected officials of Fremont County to stage an “ice breaking reception” inside the Pioneer Museum in Lander this fall. The local elected officials made the request in connection with the Wyoming Association of County Officials, or WACO, conference that they are hosting in September. The reception would include the serving of alcoholic beverages inside the museum prior to a barbecue on the grounds of the adjacent Museum of the American West. County Attorney Michael Bennett had made the request on behalf of the county officials at the board’s May meeting in Lander. At that time, he said the county’s staff would monitor the event and do the clean-up.

Bennett also proposed using the accessioned bar that is featured in a saloon exhibit on the second floor of the museum as the dispensing area, and he proposed dressing in period costume to add some “western flavor” to the event. (see photo above)

Since that request, Museum Board Chairman Tom Duncan reported that he had contacted a number of other museums around the area and the Wyoming State Museum in Cheyenne for guidance on the issue. “They said food and drink in a display area is not condoned,” Duncan said, “but what we talked about this morning is a decision that would accommodate it, but some things we haven’t worked out yet.”

Duncan mentioned several times that the board’s responsibility was to “preserve and maintain artifacts” and he was concerned because there would be liquids dispensed. He also suggested such an event could be held in the museum’s small multi-purpose room on the ground floor. “That’s what it was designed for.”

Fremont County Julie Freese, right, gestures while talking about a request to hold a reception inside the Pioneer Museum. To her left are Margy Irvine, deputy clerk, and county commission member Stephanie Kessler. (Ernie Over photo)

Fremont County Julie Freese, right, gestures while talking about a request to hold a reception inside the Pioneer Museum. To her left are Margy Irvine, deputy clerk, and county commission member Steff Kessler. (Ernie Over photo)

Fremont County Clerk Julie Freese, the current WACO president, noted that the request was a result of the loss of the Lander Community Center by fire last summer. “There was no where else to go if we didn’t have the museum. We thought about holding the event at the casino in Riverton, but WACO officials wanted everyone in one location as much as possible,” she said. “As elected officials, we’ll ensure that nothing will happen, we’ll police that, with our staff. I don’t expect any extra folks on your end. To me, this feels more like a tour, it’s a cool place to go.” Freese also said she was excited to have the opportunity to “show off” the museum to the conference participants and their spouses. She guessed that perhaps 250 people would attend the conference, “but not everyone attends these (ice breaking) events, maybe 200.” And Freese noted that attendees would be coming and going, “they won’t all show up at once, and we’re having a cash bar so that limits the consumption.”

Duncan then suggested the county should pay a damage deposit and pay for cleaning after the event.

“Because Fremont County funds the museum, do you think you need a damage deposit?” Freese asked. “I’m feeling a little bit offended. I cannot imagine we would not take care of that.”

“This is not rocket science,” said board member Butch Tonkin, “let’s do the event and if something is damaged or if something needs to be cleaned, we’ll take the bill to the commissioners.”

Duncan then asked if the county expected to hold this event next year when the WACO conference returns to Lander.

“I’ll look for another venue next year. I thought it would be way easier than it has been,” Freese said. “Since all of the elected officials asked you for a venue to show off it seems to be a problem. We’ll look for other options. It seems to be a huge problem for this board and I’m not willing to go through it again.”

To tamp down the tension a bit, board member Steve Banks of Dubois made a motion to go ahead with the WACO request with guidelines. But Duncan suggested minimal precautions “ought to be a part of the motion.”

Interim Pioneer Museum Director Connie Shannon said the artifact in question, the bar, “was not that old, from the 40s, 50s and 60s. The top has been replaced with hardwood flooring with a bar top sealer applied, the original bar top is not there anymore.” She also noted the “orginal footing is not there anymore either, but it was replaced with 1×7 pine that was stained to match the bar. It’s been cut up and put back together, it is not in pristine condition. It is accessioned, but what’s underneath the bar top is the accessioned part.”

Duncan said the value of an antique auto such as a Stutz Bearcat “does not diminish if the spark plugs are missing,” he said. “Our goal is to accomodate the request but that we don’t damage anything.”

“That is my goal,” Freese said.

After further discussion, a new motion was word-smithed by John Lane and the vote was taken. The request was approved 4-0-1, as chairman Duncan abstained from the vote. Board members John Lane, Carol Chidsey, Steve Banks and Butch Tonkin all voted to allow the event to be held, with conditions.

Observing the discussion were two other elected officials, County Commissioners Stephanie Kessler, the liaison to the board, and Keja Whiteman. Deputy County Clerk Margy Irvine was also present.

Kessler said she’d wait to see what the conditions are the board wants before saying for certain that the ice breaker would be held at the museum. “It’s quite extensive, this may change,” she said.

Dunan said they “are there just to protect the artifact.”