Diane Sands hasn’t so much made history, as made history more available.
Thursday was Sands’ last day at the Historical Museum at Fort Missoula after serving as its development officer for seven years. And what a seven years it has been.
Bob Brown, the museum’s executive director, said Sands was hired in 2005 to “find us some more space.” The museum needed additional room for offices and displays, as well as places to store pieces from its collection.
“It’s been a great opportunity to do some really good work,” Sands said.
One of the major purchases that Sands oversaw was the T-1 Post Headquarters in 2009. Originally, the museum had wanted to get the building for the basement.
“We were looking around, and we loved it for storage. But then we pulled up the carpets upstairs, and saw the old floor and the justice seal,” Brown said.
It turns out the building, which they thought was from the 1940s, was in fact from the late 1800s and housed a courtroom. When they knocked a hole in a wall, they discovered a military chapel as well. The courtroom had been the location of loyalty hearings for Japanese-Americans after the bombing of Pearl Harbor.
Sands helped secure funding to renovate the building. Around a quarter of a million dollars in funds, some of it from grants as well as public money, went into the renovations.
“Her work really revitalized our efforts,” Brown said.
Brown said Sands was also instrumental in returning a Missoula electric trolley to the museum. The trolley had been a part of the collection in 1973, but was moved to Big Sandy for restoration in 1996. Although the restoration work had been finished for several years, it was Sands who started the wheels turning to bring it back after she took a trip to see it. In August, the trolley was moved back to Fort Missoula just in time to celebrate the 100th anniversary of when it originally was put into service.
“It will be incredibly difficult to replace Diane,” Brown said.
The incoming development officer will face the immediate task of beginning to organize the exhibit that will replace World War II-era propaganda posters currently on display. It will be themed around the 150th anniversary of Missoula.
Sands oversaw the homestead cabin being put on a permanent foundation, allowing it to be used for educational purposes. She also organized the exhibit of propaganda posters. In all, the collection contains more than 600 posters, making it one of the largest in the country.
“These are powerful images that motivated people to come together,” she said.
Sands sponsored one of the posters hanging in the gallery in honor of one of her relatives, who had been an Army nurse.
She also is retiring as a state legislator, having been term-limited after serving eight years in the Montana House of Representatives. Sands was appointed to the Legislature after Mike Kadas stepped down to become the mayor of Missoula in 1996. She was the first openly gay elected member of the Legislature.
“I love the Legislature. I was there for 30 years as a lobbyist or a legislator. It’s the democratic process of the nation, to have an institution to bring people together to solve problems. If you can’t do it there, there’s no hope in this country,” Sands said.
Sands will not have a quiet retirement, however. She is working on a book about the history of illegal abortion in Montana, a topic she has been gathering information on since the 1970s. She also is very involved in a move to get a women’s history mural in the state Capitol, and is helping to organize an event for the 100th anniversary of women’s suffrage, which happens in 2014.
“I’m not too worried about being bored,” she said.
In January, she is going to Thailand for three weeks as part of an exchange program through the University of Montana’s Mansfield Center. She and others who are traveling to countries in Southeast Asia will be working on issues relating to women, including health, representation, violence against women and sex trafficking.
Before leaving the museum, she applied for a grant to put more interpretive signage for buildings that were a part of the internment camp. If the grant request is approved, she said she will be very involved with that.
“This is the most intact internment camp in the U.S. – it needs to be recognized,” Sands said.
“History is an incredibly important guide to the future. If you don’t know what happened, it will lead to doing things you will regret.”
Retirement won’t stop Sands from working on the passions she finds important.
“Just because you retire doesn’t mean you lose interest in life.”
Dillon Kato is a journalism student at the University of Montana and an intern at the Missoulian. He can be reached at 523-5251 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.