Maurine McMillan receives award for historic work

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After more than 20 years of volunteer service and building the Harvey House Museum room by room, Maurine McMillan was acknowledged for her efforts.

McMillan was awarded the Edward L. Hewett Award by the New Mexico Association of Museums earlier this month. The plaque states McMillan shows "exemplary leadership to the museum community in New Mexico."

The Belen resident was nominated by former Valencia County News-Bulletin editor Sandy Battin for the association's Volunteer of the Year award. But NMAM directors felt McMillan "was more than qualified" for a different award.

The Edward L. Hewett award is reserved for museum professionals "with education and experience as professionals for years and years," McMillan said.

"I was very excited that they considered me an outstanding part of the museum world in New Mexico," McMillan said.

The museum's volunteer director gained experience while on the job, and said she picked expert's brains about how to run a museum.

McMillan is the 22nd recipient of this award since its inception in 1991, and the first in the county to receive such an award.

From volunteer to co-director to director, McMillan has done it all at the museum.

Under McMillan's supervision, the museum has accomplished a number of milestones, including receiving NMAM grants for surveys detailing strategies that outline how to create an interesting and successful museum.

The Belen resident has brought traveling exhibits to be showcased at the museum, including two from the Smithsonian Institution's Museum on Main Street for Small Museums.

Interspersed between traveling exhibits, McMillan established a revolving schedule of exhibits highlighting artists throughout the county and county-wide organizations.

"If it weren't for Maurine, far fewer Valencia County residents would be exposed to beauty, creativity and wonderment," Battin said.

She added two new facets to the museum, including extensions of the Belen Model Railroad Club and the Belen Public Library inside the historic two-story building.

Since she started volunteering at the Harvey House, the museum's collection has expanded 100-fold, McMillan said. The collection went from consisting of an estimated 1,000 items to containing thousands.

"Maurine has taken a small-town collection of this and that and turned it into a highly respected museum that has garnered both state and national attention," Battin said in her nomination.

"It is such a pleasant place to be that people tend to linger, talking with the informative docents and asking questions about history or the passing trains," Battin added.

"Were it not for Maurine McMillan, the Harvey House would not be nearly the excellent museum it is now."

The 85-year-old joined the museum staff as a volunteer in 1992 to satisfy her hunger of history and meet people in the area.

McMillan moved to Belen after retiring as volunteer director from the American Association of University Women's preschool in Los Alamos.

Her first assignment was to clean the museum's only exhibit — a memorabilia collection, spanning the building's former dining room — of the First National Bank of Belen and the Santa Fe Railway.

Within that first year, McMillan created the museum's first brochure highlighting what the museum had to offer.

"I really made an effort to go out into the community and let them know of the museum collection," she said.

The museum's name changed the following year after the New Mexico secretary of tourism suggested the idea to McMillan while reading the brochure.

The Valencia County Historical Society Museum changed to the Harvey House Museum.

During McMillan's time in Belen, she's become a member of the Belen Art League, Valencia County Historical Society and New Mexico Quilter's Association. She was also named Citizen of the Year by the Belen Chamber of Commerce in 2008, and the News-Bulletin in 2000.

The volunteer director's next goal is to transition the museum to new hands, but that doesn't mean her time at the museum is over, she said. She plans on continuing her work in the historic Harvey House Museum for the rest of her life.


-- Email the author at aortiz@news-bulletin.com.