MONROE — The Western Heritage Center, where antique treasures are on display for the public to see and touch, is changing hands.
Snohomish County announced this week that it will be taking over ownership and management of the center, including the collection of agricultural, mining, railroad and household heirlooms inside. The history museum is located at the southeast corner of the Evergreen State Fairgrounds in Monroe.
Jerry Senner, the man who dreamed up the museum and brought it to life with his own extensive collection, died in November 2015. Volunteers, including wife Nancy Senner, 76, have continued to run the center. She decided it was time to bow out.
“It was never my passion, it was Jerry’s,” she said. “It was time for me to let the county have it. They said it would never leave the fairgrounds, and we put it to the test. If they hadn’t taken over, we would have closed it up.”
When the all-volunteer team was considering closing the doors, it had three options, according to the county: return items to those who donated them, transfer them to another tax-exempt organization or work with the county, which owns the fairgrounds, to keep the collection where it is.
The fairgrounds, like the heritage center, have a mission of public education and preserving history, county officials said in a news release. The hands-on Western Heritage exhibits have become a tradition for families at the fair each summer, fairgrounds manager Hal Gausman said. Several volunteers have committed to continue caring for the collection and leading tours.
Last week, strollers were parked alongside antique tractors in front of the red building. Just inside was a large photograph of Jerry Senner with the philosophy he lived by: “I’d rather burn out than rust out.”
A local teen paused to play a calming tune on a piano while her younger brother clicked away on a typewriter. Bethany Ames, 16, was there with brother Joel, 4, and mom Debbie Ames. They’ve been to the center a number of times before.
“I’m so grateful there’s a place I can show my kids our heritage, the items that were in my gram’s house,” Debbie Ames said.
She couldn’t believe it when she walked into a place where antiques were out in the open, ready for little hands to crank and type and touch. Usually, century-old items would be tucked behind glass or high on shelves, but the heritage center encourages people to interact with the collection.
There’s a sock knitting machine from 1924, a working model of a steam engine from 1910, a wall mount crank telephone from the early 1900s, a gas-powered jackhammer from 1946 and a motorized hay press from 1919, among dozens of other items. One corner is dedicated to mining, another to cooking. There are tractors outside and train sets inside.
Volunteers first promoted the Western Heritage collection during the 2006 Evergreen State Fair, and the museum opened soon after.
At first, it was almost all the Senners’ collection of old tractors and tools. It was Jerry Senner’s passion, and he’d been collecting since the 1980s.
“That’s why he wanted to start a museum,” Nancy Senner said. “We had so much stuff.”
After it opened, people donated or loaned additional items.
Some tractors outside the museum will go home with the Senner family, but the rest of the collection is staying put once the county takes over, she said.
The center is set to officially change hands this fall. The county is working to set up a volunteer board, draft a business plan, seek donations and get advice from local museums and history organizations.
Though Nancy Senner knows it’s time for her to step back from the Western Heritage Center, she hopes people will continue to visit, donate and support the grassroots museum.
“It’s still his legacy,” she said. “It’s still Jerry’s legacy.”
Kari Bray: 425-339-3439; firstname.lastname@example.org