Jayne Singleton and the Spokane Valley Museum

  I can think of no better place for a Valley grandparent to spend quality time with a grandchild than a visit to the Valley Heritage Museum. For that matter, any parent would do well to take their kids there. It is a repository of local history that provides a visual bridge across the generation gap, showing the youth that life was much the same in years past. It was just less crowded, less high tech, and much more down to earth.
While the colorful and creative exhibits can help draw the generations together, it has the unique capacity of helping the younger visitors bond to their community. Like all good museums it teaches history in general but unique to this one is the Valley backdrop.
The museum has become a dynamic contribution to the Valley, with hundreds of donated items, dozens of volunteers and thousands of visitors, but only seven years ago it was just an idea  inspired by frustration.
“This whole thing started back when I was working on the 80th Anniversary celebration for the Valley Chamber of  Commerce,” said Jayne Singleton recently. “I wanted to put together a historical display and found it difficult to find anything.” She discovered that  there were old pictures and stories but that it was all spread out .
“The library had a little, and the paper had some stuff but the there was no one place I could go to get what I needed and I thought that was sad,” she said. “That was when I started thinking the Valley needed a museum.”
“It bothered me that there was no place in the Valley where you could connect,” she said, adding that she had been raised with an appreciation for family history. “I know the names of family members born in 1750 and in my dining room I have my great grandparents’ wedding picture.”
Believing that strong connections to the past are a balm to individual as well as community stability, Jayne began crusading for a Valley museum in 2002. “At first I did the dog and pony show,” she said. ” I spoke to the Chamber and the Kiwanas and all the fraternal organizations and I did displays at things like Valleyfest.”
On an act of faith, she left her public relations job at Metropolitan, waded through a mountain of paperwork with the IRS and Washington state, obtaining a tax exempt charter for her dream and went at it full time.

  

“It was a leap of faith,” she said. “I left the good for the great.” When the Spokesman did  a story on her quest, things began to come together.

“That story got the phone ringing,” said Jayne, who moved to Spokane from California in 1983. “Chuck King was the first to call and say he wanted to help. He had been collecting old Valley photos and memorabilia like me.”

As her efforts gathered support and supporters, the museum became a physical reality in 2004 when the newly formed SpokaneValley city council voted unanimously to donate the old Opportunity Township building to the museum.

“There aren’t too many historic public buildings left in the Valley,” she said of the 1912 building west of Pines on Sprague. “And for many years this was a community gathering place and I just knew this was where the museum was meant to be.”

Jayne and a group volunteers went to work restoring the building’s neglected exterior and putting together exhibits with a belief that their efforts would benefit the community.

And their efforts have proved a wise investment.

The first year the museum had 700 visitors and already this year the number is over 3,000, with more than 33 states being represented on the visitor sign-in ledger. School classes regularly take field trips and museum buffs driving down Interstate 90 are often drawn in by the directional signs.

In fact, people from all over the world are taking advantage of our newly created repository of local history. “ I had a guy fromIreland email the other day who was researching his family genealogy,” Jayne said. “He only knew that his grandfather’s brother had lived in Opportunity and murdered someone. I looked in the township ledger and found his name and then went online and found his record at the Walla Walla Penitentiary and discovered he spent 20 years there for murdering a man in Dishman in 1912 and turned out to be a life long criminal who reoffended again and again.”

While that episode might be somewhat morbid and sad, the point is that everyone now has a place to go in the Valley to learn about their roots  and need not be frustrated in their search because Jayne had a vision that became her dream job and a local treasure.

“This experience has been like throwing a stone into a body of water. The Valley is really a huge body of water and the ripples continue to go out and out,” said Jayne, who is more passionate and exuberant than ever. “Every day is like Christmas. You never know who is going to come in and what might be donated.”

 

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