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Western Heritage Center museum’s transfer will keep it open

MONROE — The Western Heritage Center, which has long been an independently operated interactive agricultural and mining museum with a bevy of antique machines, is set to be preserved as part of the Snohomish County Parks system.
The transfer could happen as soon as Sept. 5, fairgrounds manager Hal Gausman said, following the completion of the popular 12-day Evergreen State Fair which kicks off on Aug. 24.
The museum’s founder Jerry Senner died unexpectedly in November 2015. His widow Nancy Senner, along with volunteers and family members, have been running the museum. It wasn’t easy for Nancy, she said previously, because the museum was “Jerry.”
Gausman said he initiated talks with the county after the Senner family had been looking into dispersing the Western Heritage Center’s extensive collection to other area museums.
“It’s just too critical of a space, of a collection here at the fairgrounds, to go away,” Gausman said. “The center is an amazing part of the fairgrounds that shows the tradition of this county, this area and during the (Evergreen State) Fair, a lot of people enjoy visiting the center.”
The talks with Nancy and the museum’s board began sometime in 2016 and there are still some issues to be worked out, according to county parks and recreation director Tom Teigen.
“We’ve been working with (Western Heritage Center’s) board, which includes some of the Senner family members, on what is the path forward,” Teigen said last week. “They’ve been in conversations with the Fairgrounds staff and we know that the County Executive Dave Somers is supportive of the museum and committed to honoring Jerry’s memory and the work he put into that place.”
The museum is located on the Evergreen State Fairgrounds owned by the county. The Senners have been paying a lease agreement with the county as the museum grew and attracted visitors.
The museum uniquely lets patrons interact with some of the machines and old farming gadgets inside: From rope-making like the pioneers did, to shucking corn, working the model trains, turning the old printing press and more. The “see and touch” aspect of the museum diverts from the “do not touch” model at most other museums.
Since the center is a nonprofit, as is the fair facility, Gausman said the transfer of the collection from the Senner family to the county should go well. 
“Since they’re a nonprofit, they can turn over the collection to another nonprofit, which is this division of the county, so they’re turning it over to us,” Gausman said. “The main thing for us will be, after the transfer, maintaining the collection and the center’s hours. We’ll need volunteers and a new board, so if anyone wants to help and be part of this, I’m taking calls.”
Gausman said apart from the Fair, the center gets school group visits to learn about the local history. Education is of high importance for the center’s continued use. 
The county is on the same page. 
“Yes, there’s definitely movement because there’s no way we’ll let that shut down,”
Teigen said. “They do amazing stuff and they engage a lot of kids and we really do value it. ... It definitely needs a place and a home.”
Teigen said the current steps are to negotiate with the museum’s board on what equipment stays and goes, since some of it was on loan from area farmers and others; and to work out the ‘transition period’ for the museum at the fairgrounds.
Gausman said if anyone from the public is interested in helping with the center’s transition would like to get involved, call him at the fairgrounds at 360-805-6700.  

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