by Paul R. Spitzzeri
It used to be fairly common for an employee to stay with their company for their entire career, though it has become much less so in recent decades. So, it is more than remarkable to me that two days ago, the 1st of July, marked my thirtieth anniversary at the Homestead.
What a journey it has been! In early 1988, when I had an 8-hour per week unpaid internship, it was really a lark, something to do for fun during my last semester as an undergrad at Cal State Fullerton. I was a history major and looking to get into teaching high school social science courses, but my real career goal was to coach boys basketball, something I’d done for three years during my college years.
As the internship in the education department (involving tours, exhibit research, help in planning an architectural crafts fair, and other tasks) neared its end and I readied to graduate, I was fully prepared to get to work on securing a teaching credential and looking for jobs.
A full-time education staffer, however, resigned to go to graduate school and it was decided to divide that position into two part-time ones. I was asked to apply and interview, though I hesitated because of my existing plans. Then I thought that, if I was hired at the Homestead, I could still pursue the credential and, if I found teaching and coaching gigs, then quit the museum job.
Instead, I stayed (and stayed . . . and stayed.) I was hired and started my first job at the Homestead on 1 July 1988. Fortunately, I had the opportunity to work in very different positions for a small museum with a ten-person staff. After a stint as an education specialist in that part-time role, I worked 6 1/2 years as volunteer supervisor/coordinator, another 6 years as a collections specialist, 9 years as collections manager, and 6 years as assistant director.
In each case, opportunities arose that provided variety and interest that were hardly expected. A major area of interest wasn’t even part of my job responsibilities, this being research and writing on the history of the Workman and Temple families, the site, and greater Los Angeles. A couple of times, I looked for other work and was offered a couple of jobs.
But, almost all of the work I’ve done at the museum has been interesting and instructive. Working with dedicated volunteers who gave their time and talents was a tremendous pleasure and I really hesitated when I was asked to switch over to collections management. But, there, I had the opportunity to assist in the restructuring and remaking of that area of the Homestead’s operations and learned a tremendous amount.
Being collections manager through almost all of the 2000s was another fascinating period, especially because I took my cues and inspiration from a predecessor and continued in the building and expansion of the museum’s historic artifact collection. One of the more fulfilling aspects of my work here has how the Homestead has been able to use these objects in so many ways, whether it be tours, special events, social media, print media and others. Occasionally, we’ve loaned artifacts for exhibits at other places or had images of them used in books and other publications.
For the first several years of this decade, I was the Homestead’s assistant director and moved more into administrative roles, learning a great deal about human resources and delving more into planning and structural and operational issues. From about 2000 onward, involvement with other historical organizations, off-site presentations in the hundreds, writing and publishing, and blogging, among other activities, added variety and greater depth to the work. I couldn’t be more fortunate to have had these opportunities, especially staying in one place all these years.
On 1 July 2016, I became museum director, which brought its own transformations as well as the expected and significant learning curve. Obviously, being in that position meant building from the work before, while establishing a new identity and ways of working. Mistakes and missteps are frequent, but become fewer as familiarity, knowledge and understanding hold sway. The first two years of managing the museum has been both challenging and highly rewarding (and, certainly, never run-of-the-mill.)
Yet, none of this is possible without all that is learned from others who’ve walked (or built) similar paths. The Homestead’s director of 30 years, Karen Graham Wade; my boss of over a dozen years, Max van Balgooy; our dedicated and talented director of public programs, Alexandra Rasic; my first boss, Jennifer Boxer; and many colleagues, paid and volunteer, over the years all left their imprint on my development and growth. We beg, borrow and steal is the old cliche, but it is, clearly, true.
That leads to now and year three of my oversight of the Homestead. Change is always constant and I’m glad to have such a strong group of colleagues, all of them offering their particular interests and abilities in varied ways to making the museum the success that it is. Obviously, we always strive to improve and better what we do, working as a team.
So, our public programs staff works closely together to come up with new and interesting programs and strengthen and improve existing ones. They use their creative skills in interpretation, programming, design and marketing and public relations to craft a calendar that really has a great deal of variety and depth, meeting the needs and interests of a wide array of visitors.
Our collections management and administrative staff also devotes its energies and talents in the presentation and preservation of our historic artifact collection, including the historic houses (the Workman House and La Casa Nueva), El Campo Santo Cemetery, and other elements, and providing the maintenance and operational support to keep the museum moving.
Then, there is the dedicated group of volunteers who give generously of the time and talents, amid busy lives, to the Homestead in a myriad of ways. Some assist in the care and conservation of our collection and exhibit preparation, installation and removal. Others volunteer at our many events, workshops and presentations. Docents give public and scheduled tours, including our school programs, to many thousands of visitors. It’s a testament to the commitment of our volunteers, as well as to the quality of our operations, that we have many who have been with us for years.
Finally, there is the generous financial and material support provided to the museum by its owner, the City of Industry. From its multi-million dollar investment in the site’s restoration in the late 1970s and early 1980s to its continued total support of the Homestead’s operating budget, year after year, the City demonstrates the commitment made in its 1971 General Plan to providing cultural amenities to the community.
It’s been an honor and a pleasure to be associated with the Homestead for all the reasons stated above. It’s been an amazing thirty years so far and, as we start the third year since I became director, I look forward to playing my part in the museum’s evolution with unmitigated enthusiasm and commitment.