First museum director desires growth, expansion

Marlena Sloss/The Herald
The Dubois County Museum's new director, Shirley J. Ray of Washington, speaks at the museum during its annual membership dinner on Thursday. Ray is the museum's first director, and said she is excited to be in the position and to expand community engagement.


JASPER — Shirley J. Ray believes we need to learn every day.

As the first-ever director of the Dubois County Museum, she’s ready to help you do just that.

The Washington woman was announced as the organization’s leader at the establishment’s annual membership dinner on Thursday night. Ray brings a resume packed with museum experience, and she is eager to lead the local outfit into the future.

“The expertise is here, as far as what people know and what they’ve been doing,” she said. “What we want to see is coordination and reaching out to new audiences, [and] focusing on generational connections between the audiences and sharing what we have.”

Ray has been in the museum studies field for about two decades. Over the years, she has led historical groups in Newark Valley, New York; Monroe County, Pennsylvania; and Warren County, Ohio. In 2012, while working as the executive director of the Red Skelton Museum of American Comedy in Vincennes, she secured $1.3 million in grant funding from the Lilly Endowment.

She is currently an adjunct professor in the social sciences department at Vincennes University. Her responsibilities at the Dubois County Museum include fundraising, as well as managing the space’s exhibits and programming.

Expansion and reaching younger audiences are priorities for Ray, as is integrating audio-visual tools to bring the artifacts into the digital age. The addition of satellite exhibits throughout the county is also planned to expand the museum’s reach.

“One of my goals is planning for future stability,” Ray said. “They were a free institution for a number of years, and they made the tough decision to go to admission a number of years ago. Membership has been growing, but it could certainly grow even more in the coming years.”

Her position will be funded for two years through a $100,000 gift made by donors Jean and Bill Hoffman. Museum officials had approached the Dubois County Council and county commissioners requesting that the county give $50,000 each year for two years so that a director could be hired, but that was not granted. After that, the Hoffmans stepped up with the donation.

Ray said that one of the museum’s biggest strengths is its comprehensive collection. It includes items that visitors can’t see anywhere else, she said. Whether agricultural, zoological, artistic or paleontological — the Dubois County Museum covers them all.

“And to know that it was all done entirely by volunteers who have been working tirelessly for 20 years is just another sort of amazing moment, really,” Ray said.

She has visited museums across the country and outside of its borders, and said that the Dubois County Museum “compares extremely favorably to all of those,” and is even more impressive than some of the more well-known facilities.

She also praised the group’s volunteers for their work over the years. The local museum opened in 1999 and was housed in the Gramelspacher-Gutzweiler building on Main Street. It moved to its current location, the former Jasper Corporation building on Newton Street, in 2004.

Through promoting the space, Ray believes even more attendees can learn about the past — and themselves.

“To me, it’s about heritage and legacy,” Ray said of why the museum is important. “If you don’t really know where you come from, what your family went through to get to where you are today, you don’t really appreciate the sacrifices that were made.”

She continued: “And you as a person don’t necessarily know how to face the challenges in your own life. So you can learn from the experiences of other people, and that can help you in so many ways.”

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