Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Public service guides Simms? life path

Ketchum Historical Society hires first director

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Express Staff Writer

Donna Simms is settling into her new position with the Ketchum-Sun Valley Historical Society Heritage and Ski Museum. Photo by David N. Seelig

Though there have been folks living and working in the Wood River Valley for more than 100 years, that amount of time is still considered young in most parts of the world. And because of the youth of the area, its history has only, in the recent past, been collected and exhibited regularly.

Among the several locales for viewing the area's history is the Ketchum-Sun Valley Historical Society Heritage and Ski Museum in Ketchum. The organization is just rounding the corner of its first decade in existence.

In 1993, the society signed a lease with the city of Ketchum for the use of three buildings at Forest Service Park, one block west of Main Street. Three years later, the organization renovated two of those buildings for use as a Heritage Museum. Its two buildings house exhibits and offices, with the middle building serving as a workspace and storage for archival materials.

The Sawtooth Science Institute and the museum joined forces in 2000 to develop and expand on educational programs.

This year marks another milestone in the society's growth. In September, Hailey resident Donna Simms was hired to be the organization's first executive director. A native of St. Louis, Mo., Simms lives with her husband, Christopher Simms, in an old Victorian home that they recently renovated. They moved to the valley in 2000 and ran a nonprofit film company called 21st Paradigm that focused on animal welfare. Following that venture, she became the operations manager of the Animal Shelter of the Wood River Valley, near Hailey.

Besides the renovation of her Hailey house, Simms has also restored a historic cabin in the Sawtooth National Recreation Area and a Depression-era brownstone in St. Louis. History is in her blood.

"I enjoy bringing things back to their original distinction," she said. "I also traveled extensively and always come back with a better understanding of what our heritage means. It's a matter of public interest."

Through her position, Simms is promoting that notion.

"The vital legacy of our cultural, recreational, environmental, aesthetic, economic and social benefits will be maintained and earmarked for the present and future generations," she said.

Simms, who is disarmingly straight-forward, has clear plans for the future of the organization.

"I hope to expand programs the society has initiated, such as outreach at the museum and the lecture series," she said. "I'd love to see more programs for seniors and the residents of Blaine Manor and a Fourth of July community celebration. We're holding the first annual Gretchen Fraser ski event—the date isn't set. We're kicking around ideas for a vintage ski race."

In November, the museum will close for renovations, Simms said. And in February the second annual local's artist show will be held. She also wants to create a larger Union Pacific exhibit, since the rail company played such a large part in the development of the community.

"I want to enhance and create new exhibits, increase membership and fund raising. I've got to put this place on the map," she declared with her trademark grin. "It's a great board, whose president is Betty Murphy. I am so looking forward to working with them and putting this wonderful organization on the radar screen."

Indeed, Simms is clearly relishing the new job. For years in St. Louis, she was a probation and corrections officer. Pulling people and places into line is her forte.

"I firmly believe in public service. It's an important part of the whole. It's funny what path you choose, or that chooses you. It's rewarding, and it's satisfying."

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