This Friday, May 6th, Gaines County Museum Director Roy Lynn Barnes will punch in the security code and lock the doors to the building’s entrance for the last time since entering the “museum phase” of his storied career in Seminole. It will be the end of an eight year tenure at the Museum for the veteran educator, and the culmination of 54 years of service to the community.
It is a phase that the now 80-year-old former SHS Spanish teacher entered when he accepted the position after the 2007 retirement of Ms. Erma Key. Since then, Barnes has transformed the facility, housed in the old Seminole Memorial Hospital complex on the Hobbs Highway, into one of West Texas’ most respected small museums among its peers. In short, he will leave it a much different place than the one he found.
Barnes has admitted that, after years of semi-retirement following his departure from the SISD in 1993, it was not an easy decision to make when then District Judge Tom Keyes approached him about the new position. He had adjusted well to his new life as one of a handful of professional translators in Texas who worked in rotation for corporate and legal interests. More importantly, Barnes and wife Bea, herself a former teacher, had taken advantage of the opportunity to indulge their passion for travel across the globe.
Gaines County Museum Director Roy Lynn Barnes visits with some young guests who had recently visited the Seminole facility, located in the 700 block of Hobbs Hwy. Barnes will be retiring this Friday after many years of service as the head of the Seminole facility. (Sentinel Photo/Sam Holbrooks)
After giving it some thought, however, Barnes came out of semi-retirement and accepted his new role, but not before he and Bea followed through on plans for a trip to the Yucatan Peninsula. The pair prepared for his new job by visiting an array of museums.
“Now I wish I could have taken the job sooner,” Barnes once said. “After about six months it became one of the most exhilarating things I had ever done.”
After accepting the position, Barnes hit the ground running and soon recruited Gene Bering as an assistant. The Museum’s contents were re-evaluated for their historical significance, as new artifacts were either donated or placed “on loan” from an increasingly supportive public. The building’s displays took on more thematic schemes that were more reflective of the area’s cultural history, and a Gaines “story” began to unfold. It was a story that was based on Barnes’ belief that Gaines County culture had been enriched by five different subcultures – Indian, Caucasian, Latino, German, and African-American – and the idea became the centerpiece of the Museum’s mission.
With the formation of the Friends of the Museum – and with the guidance of County Auditor Rick Dollahan, a 501(c) (3) non-profit was formed, opening the door to new possibilities. Without dependence on County budgets for new acquisitions and public outreach, the FOM, using membership fees, memorials, and corporate donations, was able to use private funding to aquire interesting new artifacts and expand its outreach program, primarily to younger school children. With Bering’s departure, veteran teacher Jean Moffatt came on board as assistant, ad later, re-patriated Seminolian Vicki Smith.
Throughout the Museum is evidence of Barnes’ dedication to the children of Gaines County. Even the murals on the facility’s face, painted by local school students, reflect Barnes’ commitment to that ideal. As a large board full of photos near the entrance will attest, school tours and art contests are a regular feature. The idea is to inspire and educate those who will be tomorrow’s museum supporters. With each summer’s series of “Paleontology: Digging For Dinosaurs” events, the number of children who participate continues to grow.
“A museum is living history,” Barnes explains. “It’s important to tell the story of the institutions that make up that history.”
With a proper understanding of the role of the Museum, a child can fast forward from the past to the present, from the now ancient farm tools and antique buckboard to the military room’s Norden Bombsite, one of the nation’s best kept secrets during World War II and one of Barnes’ most prized acquisitions. Artifacts are no longer stale remnants of another age but, with proper guidance from Barnes, Smith, or an attentive docent, they become part of a time continuum that ties the past to the present. Children are shown how that the old crank telephone, like the ones their great grandparents used, compare to the smartphones that they or their parents now carry.
The Museum’s own story unfolded in 1976 with an effort by the local Gaines County Historical Commission to convert the old Seminole Hospital into a museum. Its unveiling was planned to coincide with the national bicentennial celebration on July 4th that year. An enthusiastic but loosely structured group of community-minded volunteers would follow, including Pauline Ogg, Pauline Ancell, Fern Golden, Erma Key, Mary Thornbury, Thelma Dean, and others.
Among the leadership of that early effort was long-time area resident Dayton Elam, whose son Paul Elam, a local banker, would be elected 33 years later as the President of the non-profit Friends of the Gaines County Museum. Along with Elam in the current leadership of the FOM, long-time resident Kathy (Thompson) Davis occupies the Vice-President’s chair, followed by Secretary Charles George and Treasurer Connie (Golden) Lamm. An Executive Committee conducts individual duties that relate to Acquisitions, under Chairman Scott Henderson, and Publicity and Information Chair, Sam Holbrooks. Ex-officio members include Barnes and the re-elected County Judge Keyes, who also serves as the Museum’s overall supervisor.
Another of Barnes’ innovations to the Museum has been the continuing education of himself and some FOM Executive Board and Committee members through a series of workshops, sponsored by the Texas Association of Museums (TAM). The workshops provide accreditation in a variety of disciplines, including Education and Outreach, Exhibitions, Administration, and Resource Development. Providing their own funding, five members of the FOM joined the Director at a TAM Conference in Corpus Christi earlier this month. With the application of many of the concepts taught under these headings, the facility has become a model for small museum operations in the region.
When a young Roy Barnes used to travel through Seminole from his native Midland to do work for an oil company back in the 50s, the town, he has said, was the last place he envisioned as the place that he would ultimately spend most of his career. After receiving his education from a number of institutions that included the University of Texas, Odessa Junior College, and the University of Chihuahua, the young graduate would ultimately land his first full time teaching job in the tiny town of Groover, near the Oklahoma border in far north Texas.
In search of a larger school system, and one that was closer to an institution of high learning such as Texas Tech, Barnes sent his resume’ out once again, and among the first to respond was the school district in that unlikely place called Seminole. More than a half century later, Roy and Bea Barnes have put down deep roots, raised a family, and have become part of the fabric of the town.
Upon his retirement from the Museum and a public retirement party on Friday, May 6th from 4-6 p.m. at the Museum, Roy and Bea Barnes, along with scouting out new retirement property, will return to one of their passions. The two will soon be airborne, en route to Havana, taking advantage of the new diplomatic relationship with Cuba to travel to the island nation for the first time.
For Bea, the trip fulfills a promise that she had made to herself as a young college student. The two, with sponsorship from their Presbytery, will engage in a sort of unofficial mission to assist with a small fledgling church near Havana, and experience a new world that has always been so close, and yet so far away.
After interviewing numerous candidates for the job being vacated by Barnes, a new Gaines County Museum Director will be named and ready to assume the responsibility on May 9th.
But Roy Lynn Barnes can never truly be replaced.