Wanda Coyan retires from Alpine Museum
August 12, 2015
A warm summer rain fell on the party honoring Wanda Coyan on her final day as curator of the Alpine County Museum.
The museum complex has expanded under her direction to include an original Basque oven, meticulously moved from it's original site at Dangberg Sheep Camp in Hope Valley. She has hosted many days when traditional Basque bread was baked in the oven, but today the Alpine County Historical Society members served fire-made pizzas for those gathered to honor her contributions to the preservation of our heritage.
She said her favorite part of the museum complex is the old Webster Schoolhouse, filled with items from the time it was in operation. When the museum is closed, you can still peek in the windows of the white-washed structure to get a glimpse into Alpine's past.
Of her many accomplishments, her favorite project was creating the trail to the old Markleeville Cemetery, effectively expanding the concept of the museum to include other sites in the town.
She worked with volunteers to create an accessible trail. Previously, you had to hike in from the old heliport, jumping over large irrigation ditches to get there. Since many of the graves were unmarked, Wanda supervised a group that uses dog teams to identify burial plots, marked all the graves, and repaired damaged headstones. She is in the process, although she is leaving her official position, to create a plaque honoring those who have passed. They are the ones that helped create Markleeville's history.
Wanda married Gary Coyan, who was born and raised in Markleeville. The Coyan family has deep roots in Alpine County history, and Wanda has honored this in every aspect of her life, raising four sons with Gary in the Alpine tradition. Gary states in his oral history that it was her macro-mini skirt he first noticed, but he fast discovered that she is a woman of many talents and abilities.
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Along with Judy Wickwire and Karen Dustman, Wanda has not only published a book, but in the fashion of "Charlie's Angels," the three have gone on what can be called "History Mystery Adventures."
They take a historical photo and try to discover the location and providence. In their most recent project, they brought three generations of the Scott family to their ancestor's ranch site and recreated the mountain scene with current family members. They are generating memories in addition to finding the missing threads in the fabric of Alpine lore.
The book that Coyan authored with Wickwire and Dustman is one I consider the best in its field.
As a young child growing up in Tennessee, Coyan would hike the fields and forests outside of her home with her mother, gathering plants that grew abundantly and naturally for their family supper. "Wildcrafting: A Guide to Alpine Plants" presents a strong reference guide, along with recipes, for harvesting our local herbs, berries, nuts, and edible weeds.
Coyan has a degree in nursing, and has also worked as an advocate with the local women's center. She has an extensive organic garden, along with a flock of chickens. She is often seen leading her goats along by leash and halter through the streets of Markleeville. Jim Brune recalls all the times she has walked her goats up to the porch of his cabin to sit in the shade.
She brings the same concentration whether she is taking care of her husband, children, grandchildren, the museum, or any other project. This comes from her deep and consistent study of spiritual texts and meditation, which she applies in every way she possibly can to the daily tasks of living. Tall and statuesque, she creates a beautiful image of connection as she tends to whatever task is at hand.
Her only unsettling moment in her years at the museum occurred when she walked in and found a rubber boa sitting in her pathway. Two Pacific Crest Trail hikers had visited the day before, resting their packs in that very spot. Perhaps the snake had crawled from one of their packs. Luckily, her husband Gary was on hand to relocate the reptile.
Her dedication to the preservation of the tales and legends, the objects and traditions of times long past in Alpine County illuminates and enhances our lives here today. As we study our history, so we become it ourselves. We owe a debt of gratitude to Coyan for making the past accessible, and for increasing our ability to understand it.