FFNHA Board member Deb Barker celebrates 25 years at Franklin County Historical Society

Franklin County Historical Society News Release

PO Box 145, Ottawa, KS 66067
(785) 242-1232


Media Contacts:
For more information about the event: Susan Geiss, (785) 242-1232 or geisss@olddepotmuseum.org
Questions for Deborah Barker: (785) 242-1232 or barkerd@olddepotmuseum.org

Franklin County Historical Society celebrates executive director’s silver anniversary

OTTAWA, KANSAS—Thanks to the forward-thinking leadership of Executive Director Deborah Barker, the Franklin County Historical Society (FCHS) has made history as often as it has preserved it.

The FCHS will celebrate Barker’s 25 years with the historical society with a reception on November 6, which will be held at the Old Depot Museum from 4 to 5 p.m. This reception is open to the public, and refreshments will be served.

Deborah Barker moved to Ottawa in 1976. Since coming to Franklin County, she has been involved with several organizations that serve the local community and preserve local and state history. She was the administrator of the Ottawa Community Arts Council from 1984 to 1994, and has served on the boards for the Franklin County Convention and Visitors Bureau, the Santa Fe Trail Council of Girl Scouts, the Kansas Historical Foundation, Freedom’s Frontier National Heritage Area, and the Kansas Historical Society, where she served as president.

Her greatest contribution, though, has been to the Franklin County Historical Society, where she began her tenure in 1990.
During the past 25 years, Barker has helped the FCHS evolve from a collection that sometimes felt more like a community attic to a professional organization that strives to adhere to the museum field’s “best practice” standards in terms of how artifacts and archives are stored, displayed, recorded, and organized.

This evolution would not have been possible without two things Barker continues to do tirelessly: grant writing and advocacy.
“Deborah Barker has brought her amazing expertise to the preservation and presentation of Franklin County’s past and has contributed tirelessly to make the Old Depot Museum, the Franklin County Records and Research Center and the Dietrich Cabin truly excellent,” said current FCHS Board President Kevin Blackwell. “Her accomplishments have been recognized at the local, state, and national levels.”

During the past 25 years, the historical society and museum have received more than $1.75 million in grant funds and estate gifts, including a more-than $600,000 grant from the Intermodal Surface Transportation Enhancement Act (ISTEA), which helped fund the major restoration of the former Santa Fe Depot that now serves as the Old Depot Museum.

Barker has given hundreds of lectures and presentations on different aspects of Franklin County history. Under her direction, the archives and museum continue to seek out artifacts, photographs, and documents that represent all of the voices of Franklin County, including voices that are often underrepresented: those of Native Americans and African Americans.

The Franklin County Historical Society twice received Freedom's Frontier Interpretive Grants funding for a cultural program called Native Neighbors. The program brought together representatives from a number of Native American Indian tribes that historically called Franklin County, Kansas, home. This year, the Franklin County Historical Society received a national award from the American Association for State and Local History (AASLH) for its part in producing Native Neighbors of Freedom’s Frontier’s Past in October 2014.

Barker's work on Native Neighbors in 2015 included packaging the cultural program as a traveling exhibition, and making it available to other organizations within Freedom's Frontier. In October 2016, Native Neighbors will move to Fort Scott National Historic Site, as part of the Freedom's Frontier 10th Anniversary celebration.

In 2014, Barker was named the Freedom's Frontier National Heritage Area Billings Most Valuable Partner Award recipient. Barker serves as a member of the heritage area's Advisory Committee, and is on the Board of Trustees. The Billings MVP Award is named for the founding executive director of Freedom's Frontier, Judy Billings, who retired from the heritage area in 2012.

Barker will tell you that she didn’t do this alone. Numerous volunteers and community members played and continue to play a crucial role in steering the historical society into the future. But Barker has been the linchpin who keeps a variety of stakeholders connected to the historical society.

“Back in 1990, Deborah Barker had a vision of what she thought the historical society could be,” said Lynda Alderman, former FCHS board president. “She worked incredibly hard to make that happen. On top of all of the work she’s done to improve our archives and museum, she has spent countless hours researching the history of the county. Deborah Barker probably knows more about Franklin County than any other living person.”

In addition to the rest of her duties, Barker co-produced four historic driving tours of Franklin County, the giant 680-page book The History of Franklin County Vol. 1, and has written two other books: The Feast of Franklin County and Images of America: Ottawa.

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