Four years ago, despite the tireless efforts of some very capable and committed people, one of the mountain area’s most unique historic treasures was facing a bleak and uncertain fate.
Four years later, history is alive and well at the Humphrey History Park and Museum, and the lush and lovely Kinnikinnick Ranch has become a bustling crossroads of past, present and future.
What turned the tide for that timeless link to Evergreen’s pioneering past? Better you should ask who. In 2011, the Humphrey’s board of directors was fortunate to engage a new executive director possessing precisely the right training, experience, passion and energy needed to put the blush back in the ancient homestead’s pine-log cheeks.
Angela Rayne grew up in Houston with a hankering for history. “I’ve always been interested in museums, and the study of cultures,” says Angela, who wears her affection for the Humphrey like the rugged 1920s ranch clothes that are her habitual attire.
In 1989, Angela and her husband, Roger, moved to Colorado. A capable administrator, Angela took a giant career-step backward by studying anthropology at the University of Colorado in Denver and graduating with a bachelor’s degree in archaeology, a master’s degree in museum science, and enough academic honors to make even the proudest mother blush. From there, Rayne’s resume reads like the course syllabus for Western History 101.
On staff with the Colorado Historical Society, she’s held numerous posts including research assistant at the Women of the West Museum, CHS’s collections coordinator, and principle investigator on the Colorado Absolute Date Synthesis Project. Angela also worked projects relating to the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act.
“I worked with all the tribes,” she says. “Most Native American tribes believe that handling grave goods imparts something to you, and I took part in cleansing ceremonies. It was very spiritual.”
Discovering a love for teaching, in 1996 she became an instructor at her alma mater, CU Denver, and has since published dozens of scholarly tracts on a wide range of historical topics. In time, however, Angela came to believe that her primary strength was imposing needed order on an often chaotic discipline.
“Collections run by archaeologists are usually a mess,” she grins. “They need a museum person. I found out I really liked that organization part of it.”
And a lot of museums found out they liked Rayne’s brand of organization. Angela has been an education interpreter at the Lakewood Heritage Center, curator of the Astor House Museum in Golden, and was for five years a program specialist at the Hiwan Homestead Museum in Evergreen. In 2004, she was tapped as executive director and chief curator of the Denver Firefighters Museum.
“I got to gut 11,000 square feet of exhibit space and completely re-imagine it.”
Angela made a fantastic job of it, which caught the attention of city officials in her old home town. In 2009 she and Roger moved to Houston while Angela performed her visionary magic on the Houston Fire Museum. They asked her to stay on, but after so many years steeping in the Colorado mountain area’s relaxed cultural climate, Angela and Roger happily gave Houston their regrets.
“We’d fallen in love with Evergreen,” says Angela. “We just wanted to get back.”
In 2011 they bought a house in Hiwan Country Club and gratefully settled back into an Evergreen state of mind. About that time there occurred a casual meeting that can only be called historic.
“I ran into a Humphrey Museum board member,” Angela recalls. “They said the museum was in pretty bad straits, and they were getting ready to start selling off pieces of the collection.”
Rayne suggested they hold off on such drastic measures until she’d had a chance to assess the situation and submit a few recommendations.
“I said ‘Give me the information and I’ll work up a master plan. After they looked it over, they said ‘Why don’t you just take the job?’”
Rayne took the job. And if the Humphrey can’t begin to meet the salaries Angela’s become accustomed to, it offers compensations not to be found anywhere else. For one thing, Rayne enjoys complete creative reign over the park’s 35 green acres and 13 antique buildings. For another, she gets to spend her days in the warm embrace of a vibrant frontier past.
“I always joke that I could absolutely live in the 1920s, except for the electric washing machine.”
Most importantly, the Humphrey has allowed Angela to apply every bit of her vast knowledge and hard-won experience to a cause that’s captured her whole heart and mind. She immediately set about adjusting policies and practices that, while perfectly sensible in most other circumstances, were poison to a living museum.
“You wouldn’t hire a heart surgeon to fix a toothache, would you? They just needed somebody with the right background.”
Rayne personally presides over the staggering 160 different classes currently offered at the museum on diverse subjects ranging from soap-making, to seed-collecting, to the making of cheese with the help of the museum’s resident goats. She opened a gift shop that sells donated antiques and useful items hand-made in the very classes she leads. She instituted a Country Market, drawing hundreds to the museum’s front-yard big-top to swap vegetable seeds, jams and jellies, and a host of other domestic craft products.
“You can bring your own apples and leave with apple cider.”
In those and a hundred other ways, Angela has thrown herself into the job body and soul, and her efforts have given the Humphrey History Park and Museum a new lease on life.
“Instead of artifact-tours, we give tours about the family that inhabited this site, and teach classes on the life-ways of the 20s, 30s and 40s. Everything we do enables us to tell the story of Evergreen through the Humphrey story.”
The numbers tell the tale. Since Angela took the reins, Humphrey class attendance has increased 57 percent, special event participation has grown 240 percent, and museum admissions have gone up an astounding 1,900 percent. Rayne gives much of the credit to the small army of volunteers who help her administer the stately artifact. The rest she gives to the Humphrey estate’s natural capacity to enrich the larger community.
“This is a living history site,” she explains. “Instead of simply evoking memories, you create your own memories. It’s a way of personalizing history.”