Story: Kerri Regan Photos: Bret Christensen
GRIDLEY MUSEUM'S VOLUNTEER IS A NATIVE DAUGHTER
RuthAnn King spends her days tending to the treasures inside the quaint Gridley Museum, which celebrates the cultural heritage of Gridley and Butte County.
But look a little closer, and you’ll discover that RuthAnn is a piece of Gridley history herself. Her father’s family arrived in the tiny town in the late 1800s, and her maternal great-grandfather, Civil War veteran H.C. Veatch, moved there in 1905. Four years later, he built Gridley State Bank on the corner of Hazel and Kentucky streets.
The bank gave way to various other incarnations, and in the 1950s, RuthAnn’s parents opened a dress shop there. In 2000, the Gridley Rotary turned it into a museum, now run by a nonprofit organization (the building is city-owned). Today, RuthAnn is the volunteer director and archivist at the museum—inside the very building that her great-grandfather built.
RuthAnn became involved with the museum after closing the gift shop that she owned about five years ago. Some friends who served on the Gridley Museum board of directors suggested that she get involved. At first she demurred, but changed her mind, because “I thought I could use my marketing sense in making things pretty and organized,” she says. “One day I was late to a board meeting, and they said, ‘By the way—we nominated you for board president.’”
She’s no longer on the board, but in her current position, she spends many hours archiving, cataloguing, coordinating volunteers and “chatting with people and giving them a little bit of history.” Although the museum’s hours were historically quite sporadic, they’re now open from 10 am to 2 pm Tuesday through Friday. “I’m real proud of the fact that last year, we put in 35 volunteer-hours per week,” she says.
Right now, a firefighting display honors the 50th annual Red Suspenders Day, which is “like a holiday in Gridley where we honor our firefighters.” Another display features the old Libby’s cannery, which was in production until a decade ago. “It was the largest peach cannery in the world,” RuthAnn notes. Military families and artifacts, wedding gowns from 1909 and 1911, and old-time household items like washboards are also showcased. They’re working to establish a pioneer family program, as well.
RuthAnn is also invested in living history. “I’m trying to become a resource library,” she says. Recently, someone left a photograph in a crude-looking frame on her desk. On the back were the names of two little girls who stood on the running board of a pickup truck, while a silhouetted gentleman sat behind the wheel. RuthAnn went to Ancestry.com, and her sleuth work revealed that the man at the wheel was the first cousin thrice removed of the very person who deposited the photograph on RuthAnn’s desk.
Naturally, pioneer families have a special place in her heart. She married Gridley native Lowell King 53 years ago, and they were in the grocery business for decades before selling their store a few years ago. They live within a mile of her childhood home, and her two brothers live within a quarter-mile of the place they grew up. The Kings’ three sons and daughter all live in Butte County, as well. “Our sons all went out of state for college, and they all came home,” RuthAnn says. “They wanted to raise their families here.”
“Gridley is comfortable and it’s charming,” says RuthAnn. “It has some kind of a draw and pull that makes you want to stay. I love it and I have a vested interest, but it’s really fun when people move here from out of the area and they’re just as excited about it as I am.”
As for her work with the museum? “I’m going to do this until I can’t do it anymore.”
Gridley Museum Corner of Hazel & Kentucky Streets Open Tuesday-Friday, 10 am to 2 pm • (530) 846-4482