Woodlake Valley Cultural Museum Celebrates Its Grand Opening

The Four Directions Native American drumming quartet. Catherine Doe/Valley Voice
The Four Directions Native American drumming quartet. Catherine Doe/Valley Voice

The highly anticipated grand opening of the Woodlake Valley Cultural Museum took place on February 27. After a blessing by the Four Directions Native American drumming quartet, the crowd was treated to an educational repository of Woodlake’s Native American heritage and the town’s last two centuries of history.

“Until now people have kept their memorabilia to themselves, some with lots of valuable documents, photos and artifacts from the last 150 years. Now those treasures are out where the public can enjoy them and remember,” said Marsha Ingrao, Woodlake Chamber of Commerce secretary.

Years ago Sarah Watts, an old-time Woodlake resident, planted the seed to build a museum to preserve the community’s history. After she passed away, Rudy Garcia, Chamber of Commerce president, made her vision a reality. He presented the idea of the museum to the Woodlake City Council, which in turn designated a vacant piece of land on Magnolia Street to be used as a building site. Ed Michum, of Oral E. Michum Inc., donated the materials and John Wood constructed the building. Their generous donations have made it possible for the Museum to be owned free and clear of a mortgage.

The construction of the building took nine months to complete while the collecting and displaying of artifacts took two years to organize.

Marcy Miller, a former Woodlake resident, almost single-handedly set out to do this work to honor her parents and the other families who were original settlers in Woodlake. She had the help of her good friend, Woodlake resident, Debbie Eckenfel, in setting up the displays. Jennifer Malone donated the Native American artifacts and organized that exhibit. Each case represents hours of thought and work.

“Few people have any idea how much time it takes to gather artifacts and pictures, sort them into some kind of an order so that together they tell a story, and then arrange them in the space provided,” said Ingrao. “We are all astounded that Marcy, Debby and Jennifer could put together a beautiful museum with no museum experience, and not much help.”

Part of the museum-opening ceremony included the Tule River Veterans who conducted a flag ceremony, at the end of which Delbert Davis said there are many tribes and many people but just one Creator to whom they pray.

According to Malone, a Woodlake Chamber of Commerce member, the Four Directions Native American Drumming Quartet represents the Wukchumni, Wuksachi, and Mono Tribes. Malone is from the Wukchumni Tribe and her grandmother is the last native speaker of the language. One section of the museum is her family’s artifacts. She plans on displaying more of her tribe’s artifacts in an adjoining room and conducting a basket weaving class.

The first basket weaving class in the new museum is scheduled for Saturday, March 26 from 11am-1pm. More details can be found on the museum’s Facebook and website. Also on their website is a film with Malone’s grandmother, Marie Wilcox, depicting the community’s effort to keep the Wukchumni language alive. The Wukchumni Tribe lived mostly in the Dry Creek Woodlake area.

Malone is hoping that local schools make a reservation to tour the museum. She said that she doesn’t live in the past but wants to educate children in current Native American philosophy and their views of life, family and nature. “It’s important to pass our beliefs to the younger generations,” Malone said.

Her goal is to change out the Native American exhibit about every three months to showcase other tribes that lived in the area.

Air Force One Pilot Carl Peden

During an earlier event on February 13, the museum held a special preview for all the museum’s major donors. At that gathering, Carl Peden stood in front of the crowd to speak of his experiences as an Air Force One pilot for several of our country’s presidents. Peden graduated in 1947 from Woodlake High School.

At the end of his speech, he took off his jacket and handed it to Rudy Garcia to put in the museum. His action inspired many others to come forward with ideas of things they could donate to the museum which will keep it fresh for many years to come. Peden stands in front of the list of the many community members who joined to make this project a possibility.

“Some asked me what Air Force One had to do with Woodlake, and had Carl Peden not been the pilot, I could have answered, ‘nothing.’ But this man showed me that Woodlake, small agricultural town in the rural outskirts of the San Joaquin Valley, reaches and influences far beyond Woodlake,” said Ingrao. “Carl Peden, so vibrant at the Museum VIP opening, passed away two days later on President’s Day. We all mourn his passing.”

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