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  • ‘Wishing you were here’ through Durango’s history

    Do you remember that old American Express tagline “Membership has its privileges” that made us all long to receive those exclusive perks?

    Several institutions in town offer special privileges to members, including the Durango Arts Center (10 percent off in the Gallery Shop and on performance tickets), Durango Discovery Museum (free entry to more than 350 museums around the world, discounts and special events) and the Animas Museum (free entry, discounts, etc.).

    The Animas Museum added a little something extra to its extra privileges by having a members-only exhibit Feb. 23.

    It was all about tourism here since Durango’s founding, including souvenir plates, salt and pepper shakers and other memorabilia, as well as great examples of the museum’s postcards. I didn’t realize before that Nina Heald Webber is not only a generous donor of postcards to the Center of Southwest Studies, but also has given many to the Animas Museum as well.

    Several of the postcards were from the 1960s, because, as Museum Director Carolyn Bowra put it, “so many members could remember those views.” Postcards featuring the old Kiva Theater, Main Avenue looking north from what is now College Drive and, my favorites, both the interior and exterior of the old Chief Diner were all among the mid-20th century examples. (Best blueberry pancakes in town.)

    Alas, all that remains of the chief is its eponymous symbol, who now stands guard across Ninth Street from Toh-Atin Gallery.

    I learned a new word – and you know me, I love to share new words – deltiology, the study and collecting of postcards. Postcards really became popular in this country at the 1893 Columbian World Exhibition in Chicago, which somehow seems fitting, as that also was the place Mesa Verde was introduced to the country and the world.

    The display included postcards of Trimble Hotel, a number of views of Durango from every angle and always the shortest of messages, because for many years, the entire back of the postcard was reserved for the recipient’s address. And thus came about the immortal phrase, “Wish you were here.”

    I often feel like a voice in the wilderness in support of this wonderful institution that preserves our heritage. The Animas Museum isn’t just a place where students go on field trips or where you take the in-laws in desperation to entertain them. In fact, True West magazine named it one of the Best in the West Regional History Museums for 2013.

    The museum offers great lectures, interesting exhibits and cool hands-on experiences. New on the schedule this year are monthly Family Days. The first one, from 1 to 3 p.m. March 30, will teach attendees how to make a pinwheel to better enjoy the blustery spring weather. I used to love pinwheels, and the idea of teaching kids how to create their own toys seems valuable in many ways. Oh, and did I mention it’s free? Yet another offering to the community.

    The Animas Museum has lost all of its government funding since the economic downturn began, and its valiant staff and board members provide a lot of bang with their miniscule budget. But it’s up to us to keep it thriving.

    On March 13, Bowra and Mr. Action Line, Mike Smedley, will be bartending at The Red Snapper in one of that restaurant’s generous evenings in support of local nonprofits. It’s sure to be an entertaining evening. You were going out for dinner anyway – why not enjoy some seafood and support their efforts?

    The members-only exhibit will probably be reprised and expanded toward the end of the summer as the museum preps for its entrance onto the national stage with a traveling exhibit from the Smithsonian.

    “Journey Stories,” which focuses on the mobility of the American population, will run from Jan. 17 to March 18, 2014. A number of local partners will make it a community-wide experience, and every school and class should take advantage of the unique opportunity. I’ll be marking the days.

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    Letting the breezes of March blow out their birthday candles for them are Sean Franklin, Diann Wylie, Katie Thompson, Mary Alice Copeland, Larry Crawford, Callie Huckins, Whitney Huckins, Michael Pratt, Allison Cripe, Margaret Copeland, Dennis Pierce, Steve Kiely, Hayden Siekman, John Siebert, Lilly Tichi, Geo Freitag, David Bishop, Troy Bledsoe, Warren Broman, Susie Fisher, Frank Tikalsky, Marci Wait, Lynda Morris, Art Cahill, Brittany Jaramillo and Susan Blue.

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    When the Reading Club of Durango met at the home of Lou Falkenstein on Valentine’s Day, members had no idea how timely the program was going to be.

    Last spring, Eileen Wasserbach had chosen Pope John XXIII as her idea of a game-changer because of the sweeping effects Vatican II, which he convened, had on the Catholic Church, including Mass being offered in the lingua franca of the country where it was being celebrated.

    And all of a sudden, here was the papacy on the front pages as Benedict XVI stepped down in the first resignation of a pope in six centuries.

    I think even the Catholics in the group learned something, but it was quite interesting for those of us from other faiths. From the moment of Pope John XXIII’s humble birth in a poor village in the Italian Alps, Angelo Roncalli’s (his given name) life was centered on religion. His family waited patiently on the steps of the village church for the priest to return to baptize him immediately after he entered the world.

    After such humble beginnings, he attended junior seminary, then passed an entrance exam that took Roncalli to Rome to study ancient languages. He loved cities ever after. But, he considered his happiest day the first day he celebrated Mass after being ordained in 1904. He celebrated the Mass in his village’s church, where he was surrounded by family and friends.

    During World War I, he worked at a hospital in northern Italy that saw brutal numbers of casualties, and after the war, he became a bishop and nuncio, or diplomat for the Vatican. During World War II, he was in Greece, helping save about 24,000 Jews from the Holocaust.

    After the war, Roncalli was the nuncio to Paris, and in 1953 he was elevated to cardinal. Five short years later, he was elected as pope. Many thought he’d be “harmless, a placeholder priest,” as Wasserbach described it.

    Throughout Roncalli’s life, there was a rift between a liberal, progressive group that believed the church needed to be more integrated in people’s daily lives and a more conservative group who believed the focus should be on the clergy and the Bible.

    And the rest, as they say, is history.

    As the College of Cardinals prepares to meet in conclave, perhaps sometime this coming week, they too will be pondering what kind of pope should lead the church through its next stage. Will it be a “placeholder” priest, who, like John XXIII, ends up being a surprise and changing the entire face of the church? Someone who will be a steady hand on the tiller, keeping the church as is? Or a revolutionary pope with new ideas?

    We’ll all find out soon.

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    Taking time to reflect on celebrating another year of marriage are Bill and Joyce Watt and David and Dora Chavez (69 years!).

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    Here’s how to reach me: neighbors@durangoherald.com; phone 375-4584; mail items to the Herald; or drop them off at the front desk. Please include contact names and phone numbers for all items.

    I am happy to consider photos for Neighbors, but they must be high-quality, high-resolution photos.