By Dave Smith
21st Space Wing Public Affairs staff writer
PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. — Right in the middle of Peterson Air Force Base lies a nearly mystical place where the military, civilian community and history intersect, demonstrating how they are intertwined.
The Peterson Air and Space Museum captures local aviation history as it pertains to the military and to the Colorado Springs area. With 15 aircraft, five missiles and a variety of air and space-related artifacts, the facility plays a valuable role in sharing the 21st Space Wing’s mission. Looking to expand its offerings, museum staff is seeking volunteers and donations so the facility can be renovated, updated and improved.
About 20,000 visitors come through the museum each year, according to Jeffrey Nash, Peterson Air and Space Museum assistant director and curator. On an average week in the summer, about 300 visitors pass through the museum’s buildings.
“September is busy,” Nash said. “Traditionally there are a lot of reunions, military and other, then. They all want to come and see us and we are (glad) to have them.”
Another aspect of the expansion plan is work on sidewalks and landscaping to tie the museum buildings and grounds into a more cohesive site. The museum is unique in the fact that it is registered as a National Historic Site, Colorado Springs Municipal Airport Historical District, right in the middle of an air base. The museum is also one of only 11 field museums in the Air Force Heritage Project.
With all the visitors come a need for staffing to support the use. There are two paid staff members at the museum, Nash and Gail Whalen, the museum director. Approximately 50 volunteers help keep the museum running one way or another, be it maintaining property and equipment, participating in the board of directors or other types of support both full- and part-time.
The typical volunteer puts in eight-10 hours a week, some of them even work from home. In 2014 alone Whalen said there were slightly fewer than 49,000 volunteer hours logged at the museum, the equivalent of 19 full-time employees.
“Volunteer participation has stayed fairly steady in the last eight years, but over the most recent two we have seen a decline,” Whalen said. “It seems most of that has been due to many of our long-time volunteers dropping out due to age or illness.”
The most critical need for volunteers lies in the position of docent.
“That’s a fancy museum word for tour guide,” Nash said.
The docent position is the role where almost all volunteers begin their service. Nash calls docents the face of the museum.
“Without them we could not open. They are the first ones seen at the museum,” he said. “They are the ones who provide a great visitor experience here.”
Docents interact with visitors, interpret exhibits, answer questions and give tours. Currently there are about 20 docents. Nash said ideally there would be four or five available for each visitor day. Friday and Saturday are the days docents are most needed.
Along with the building and grounds upgrades there are other improvement projects at the facility. Improving NORAD-related exhibits, air defense related items and adding modern aspects of the base’s space mission among them. But seeing all the projects through takes money and the Air Force can only do so much, meaning the Peterson Air and Space Museum Foundation is seeking donations toward the improvements. The foundation was specifically chartered to raise funds and accept donations which are then gifted to the Air Force for use at the museum. The greatest source of regular income is from the gift shop which sells a variety of historical replicas and collectable items.
Plans for particular fund raising events are in the works, said Nash, but the amount to be raised is in the $2.5 million range. The Air Force will budget about $200,000 of that amount toward capital improvements, but the rest will come from events and donors.
“Donations and gift shop sales have definitely gone up, thanks largely to the new museum website and efforts by the foundation’s treasurer and gift shop manager,” Whalen said. “They are definitely trying to make the museum more visible, and the treasurer, Bruce Long, has really worked hard to contact potential donors and grant organizations to help support the museum operations.”
In a region steeped in colorful history you can volunteer or donate to keep the preservation of history alive at the Peterson Air and Space Museum. For information on volunteering, making donations or visiting the museum go to www.petemuseum.org.