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Front Page » October 21, 2003 » Local News » Urara to Meet in Green River
Published 4,335 days ago

Urara to Meet in Green River

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The miniature railroad, moved from the basement in Salt Lake City by cutting it into parts and placed in the Helper museum.

Madge Tomsic and the Helper Western Mining and Railroad Museum. was awarded the prestigious Public History Award at the annual awards meeting of the Utah State Historical Society Sept. 11.

The award was presented to the museum for being an important force in collecting, researching, preserving, and sharing eastern Utah's rich and diverse history, said Tomsic. She recently produced a walking tour of Helper's Main Street.

The museum, led by Director SueAnn Martell, is working to reprint the book, "Carbon County: Eastern Utahs Industrial Island." Martell mounted an exhibit on daily life in Helper and organized a week long program celebrating History and Heritage Month during May, 2003."

In reflecting the award, Tomsic says, "SueAnn and I were so delighted to receive this award on behalf of all the people of Carbon County. Those who have made so many contributions in the form of artifacts, photographs, archival material and money that has made it possible for us to put together this wonderful museum that tells the history of this area."

Tomsic went on to say,"I want to pay tribute to the many volunteers who have worked to collect and put together displays of the artifacts, photographs and archives, to tell the history of the immigrants who came here to work in the mines and on the railroad."

The original museum in the Helper Auditorium was built by Fred Voll in the early 1960s. In 1986, Helper City purchased the Helper Hotel from the Denver and Rio Grande Railroad, which they had been using for their crews.

Frances Cunningham persuaded Helper City to move the museum into this structure and with a group of volunteers and her family, moved the museum. Tomsic recalls that it was tremendous job, rewiring, painting, cleaning and trying to get some of the artifacts on display. They even moved the miniature railroad from a basement in Salt Lake City by cutting it into parts and placed it in the museum. It took many volunteers like George Martell and Cedo Cavainnie to get it put together, but it is now up and running. Tomsic says if it stops they just call their great volunteer Tudge Nielson.

Margaret Garavaglia was one of the first volunteers to step in and help Frances. She stayed as a volunteer from the moving to putting together the new museum in the old hotel until she died in February 2003.

For two years, while Frances was very ill, Margaret and Carolyn Birch kept the museum full of volunteers and the doors open for visitors.

When Tomsic retired from teaching, Margaret Garavaglia, who had been her good friend since 1950 when she came to this county, urged her to help them out at the museum. Tomsic had taught Carbon County History for 25 years, "and it sounded very enticing to me. Frances Cunningham taught me how to number the artifacts and I started to work. I was soon organizing and numbering photographs and putting all this information on the newly purchased computer. It turned into a full time volunteer job and I loved it."

The display committee, Margaret Garavaglia, Pat Kokal and Tomsic spent the next few years putting together all the basic displays that tell the story of the county. It was Margaret who helped place every artifact in the cases and Pat, who found many artifacts and helped place the large items in the rooms. It was also Pat, with the help of Laine Adair, Sam Quigley and Frank Scavo who put together the entire outdoor display of mining and railroad equipment.

Pat also salvaged a part of the counter from the old Cornet building and old boards. He put the counter in the company store display and Henry Chavez nailed the boards on the basement room that became the Blacksmith Shop. Tomsic is not sure how she managed with the help of the Helper City Street Department to move in a very old forge from the old Milano Blacksmith Shop. She points out that the Helper City crews have helped with many jobs like that, including moving a grand piano to the second floor.

Kristen Taylor, a member of the museum board, brought her high school students in to paint and reorganize the World War I and II rooms. They also started the project of collecting and hanging all of the photographs of the Carbon County World War II veterans.

Robert and Pete Palacios are making the old coal mine in the basement more real by adding and rearranging artifacts.

The Carbon County Centennial Committee was supportive of the museum and applied for a $15,000 grant so they could hire an archivist to organize the archives onto the computer. "We found Lori Perez who did such a wonderful job of compiling our archives," says Tomsic, adding, "she stayed on for a while and did a beautiful display dedicated to the 100th Anniversary of the Winter Quarters Explosion of 1900. Lori also helped me with the Tour of Helper Main Street brochure."

For the last 10 years Laney Booth has volunteered her expertise in photography and has made negatives of the photograph collection, which is approaching 3,500. This makes it possible for the museum to place photographs in binders, organized by mining camps and towns. Visitors or researchers can then go through the books to find photographs they may want to purchase.

When Ron Jewkes came on board as a volunteer, it wasn't long before his creative ideas blossomed. As an old baseball player he knew how much Carbon County loved the game and how many teams they had in the county and in each mining camp. So they went to work on a baseball room. Ron gathered artifacts and photographs and between the two of them they managed to get them into the cases and glued on the wall. Some of the photographs were a little crooked, "but we had a great time doing them. Ron is also our top tour guide. As the oldest resident of Kenilworth he is an expert on the history of that mining camp. Ron is a favorite of the news reporters and they love to interview him and write about him."

During the same time the museum board knew they were losing many of the seniors and a lot of history was going with them. "We brought Floyd ONeil, a Carbon High history teacher and later a University of Utah professor of history, to the museum to teach us how to do interviews. We have accumulated a great reservoir of local history on videos from these many interviews and they are all available to anyone to view at the museum"

Tomsic did a five hour interview with Dr. J. Eldon Dorman, "which is absolutely priceless." He helped with ideas for the museum and donating items. She also had a great interview with Al Veltri, who served on our museum board for many years. Al tells his Italian stories, "which are hilarious. We are so happy to have SueAnn Martell as our new Director. She started her tenure with an outstanding display of Helper. Ron and I helped get photographs and ideas together, but it was SueAnn and Darrin Teply who put together the display which sets off the entire Museum."

To honor the coal miners who gave so much of their lives to organize the United Mine Workers of America, which gave us all a better life, Tomsic put together the Union Room, with help from Mike Dalpiaz, our former Mayor and head of the United Mine Workers in District 22.

Tomsic also says, "I want to thank Pam Miller, who is in charge of the Prehistoric Museum and on the Board of the State Historical Society who has always been there for me with good advice and tons of information and encouragement."

Philip Notorianni, who has now achieved the Director of the Utah State Historical Society, was the one with the big shoulder and all the directions. "We spent an entire day together going throughout the museum and outlining a direction with some goals for the museum. I called him often and he always had time for me. I am so grateful, as should we all be for his sound advice and help."

In summary as Tomsic recalls the honor, "I am so proud to be a resident of Carbon County and play a part in bringing our great history alive in this old Helper Hotel."

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