For more than a decade, museum director Dick Edwards has devoted himself to Alpine County Ð and the love affair has been mutual. Visitors to the well-stocked museum atop Schoolhouse Hill have come to expect Edwards' smiling welcome, and his expert renditions of Alpine County history. It's difficult to picture the museum without him, but the coming year may well be Edwards' last in his post as museum director.
Born in Glendale, Calif., in 1934, Edwards grew up in an extended family household that included grandparents and an uncle.
"This was the middle of the Depression, so we all had to live together," Edwards noted. "The good part was, my family was from Idaho and every summer from the time I was six until I was 15, I would go back with my grandparents to a little town called Ashton. I spent my days roaming the country, fishing the Snake River, and picking up arrowheads."
After high school, Edwards studied ornamental horticulture at California Polytechnic Institute and formed his own landscaping company, before being drafted by the Army in 1955. He returned to Cal Poly for a degree in Biological Science, working for two years as a fisheries assistant at the Chino Fisheries Base and Mt. Whitney fish hatchery. But a different sort of future was calling.
"Somehow I blew the fisheries statistics exam, but passed high on the park ranger exam," Edwards noted. "Within a couple of months, they offered me a job at Leo Carrillo State Beach in Malibu as a park ranger. And that started my career."
Edwards' early ranger posts included a stint at Torrey Pines Reserve in San Diego, and another as the first dog patrol ranger at Big Sur State Park, in 1970.
"That was the era of unrest in the country," Edwards explained. "Big Sur was a mecca for kids acting out with drugs and alcohol, and the dogs were a better way to handle things than shooting somebody."
Two years later, Edwards became a ranger-historian at La Purisima Mission State Historic Park in Lompoc, California. "We lived at the restored mission amid a 1,100-acre historic park," Edwards recalled. "I started their first docent program, which is still going strong today, and planned to stay there until retirement, but they promoted me Ð jumped me two pay grades and made me Regional Interpretive & Exhibit Specialist for the Southern Region of the State Parks, from Santa Barbara to San Diego."
Among Edwards' many accomplishments for the Parks Service was a special documentary project on Yosemite ranger-naturalist Carl Sharsmith.
"Sharsmith was a ranger-naturalist before I was born," Edwards said. "Over a period of three summers, Jim Long and I collected some 5,000 photographs and four oral histories. He was a great naturalist and a grand gentleman." It's a phrase that today describes Edwards himself.
Edwards finally retired from the California State Parks service after 34 years of dedicated service. California's loss would be Alpine County's gain.
"I had been coming to Alpine for a number of years with Jim Long, and the County was thinking of closing the museum down to save money," Edwards recalled. "I told them I'd work for a small salary and didn't need benefits. I got a call the next day. And it's been a long and loving relationship."
During his tenure as museum director, Edwards is proud to have completed three projects: a carriage shed exhibit, a working stamp mill, and placing the Old Webster Schoolhouse on the National Register of Historic Places. Under his guidance the museum has also adopted a professional curatorial program, combining a database with photographs of each artifact. And Edwards has been instrumental in expanding the Museum's photographic collection and obtaining significant donations, including works by early mining capitalist Lewis Chalmers. Works in progress include a photographic exhibit of the work of Nacho Bravo, and completion of a blacksmiths' shop exhibit.
Still, the tug of retirement seems to be getting stronger. Edwards says he may retire after the coming summer season Ð or perhaps he may stay on another year. He still has dreams he'd like to see accomplished.
"The county really should acquire the land west of the museum to keep as a buffer zone and to help keep the vista pristine and preserve the ambience," he said. "Perhaps a nature walk could be put through the area. And before I leave, I'd like to see a working blacksmith's shop exhibit completed."
Whenever he does retire, Edwards hopes future directors will be given appropriate resources to build on his successes. "I would hope the County would never feel they have to close the museum down again, because it is an important storehouse of Alpine County history," Edwards noted. "Visitors constantly tell us they can't believe what a great museum this small county has. We have been so lucky that the people who came before us had the foresight to create such a wonderful resource here in Alpine County."
Alpine County Museum
The Museum will re-open for visitors on Memorial Day weekend May 24, 2008.
Hours: 11 a.m. Ð 4 p.m., Thursday through Monday.