Museum director Jean Nels is Mt. Shasta parade grand marshal

Liz Pyles
Jean Nels, Executive Director of Mt. Shasta Sisson Museum and the town's 2017 Fourth of July parade grand marshal, sits behind the wheel of Lulu Bell, a 1915 Model T fire engine on display at the museum. It's a spot where many visitors take like to have their photo taken. The museum is located next to the fish hatchery at 1 North Old Stage Road in Mount Shasta. It is open seven days a week from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. from Memorial Day to Labor Day. By Liz Pyles

“If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader.” – John Quincy Adams

Nearly 50 volunteers and countless community members have worked together under the leadership of executive director Jean Nels to make Mt. Shasta Sisson Museum a success.

How successful has it become? As one visitor wrote in the museum comment book, “Our children were offered to go for ice cream and preferred to stay here.”

Nels was chosen as grand marshal for the 2017 Mount Shasta Fourth of July Parade, and she accepted the honor “on behalf of the entire group of volunteers that help tell the story of our town.”

The parade is scheduled to start on Mt. Shasta Blvd. at noon on July 4th. This year’s parade theme is: “Mount Shasta – Spirit of the Mountain, Celebrating our Community’s Spiritual Diversity.”

Nels took many students on field trips to the museum during her 34 years as a teacher, then took courses in museum studies after she retired from teaching in 2007.

She sees the museum as a group endeavor and calls the grand marshal honor “a reflection of what this group can and has done for the community.”

Saving and telling the area’s history

Museum board president Jim McChesney said Nels leads a team of volunteers who have made the museum a place where people stay for hours and keep coming back.

“She has this energy and diplomacy and humble way to allow people to bring out their thoughts,” McChesney said of Nels. “People trust her and in her judgement.” He said it’s fascinating to watch her help people be the best they can be.

Board treasurer Griff Bloodhart said the museum wouldn’t be what it is without her. The volunteers and the people who donate money are important too, but “she’s the linchpin for the whole group. She’s absolutely wonderful.”

“People want to be involved with something that is successful, and she’s absolutely the reason for that,” said McChesney.

Nels said volunteers do “what they feel they can do to give back.” That includes fundraisers, exhibit designs, daily operations, tours, field trips, school communications, and being board members.

She said they feel like they are doing something great that benefits the community and visitors by providing an enjoyable experience at the museum while sharing stories about the community and mountain.

“We feel like our mission really is to share our stories and make it accessible for everyone,” said Nels.

She said the museum is important because it saves and tells the history of the area.

Volunteers give information to visitors about the many things to do in the area and see themselves as “a community-centered organization.”

As a teacher, Nels said, “I wanted to give children that spark of curiosity, and then they would want to learn on their own.” She said it’s the same at the museum, striving to “ignite that spark of curiosity.”

Making changes, taking risks and a five-year plan

McChesney said when he became a board member in 2008 things hadn’t changed much at the museum since 1984. But things have changed since Nels became executive director in 2011.

He said there are science, art, history and children’s museums – and Nels has combined all that into one.

The museum welcomes comments, and those comments have included: “Best local museum I’ve ever seen” and “The only museum I return to year after year! Love it!”

As Mount Shasta Town Historian Perry Sims wrote in a letter to the editor this past March, “The gift of energy and passion that Jean Nels, Jim McChesney, and their teams of volunteers have given us, is amazing.”

McChesney credited Nels for creating many interesting and hands-on exhibits for children, so parents can learn about the history and kids have something to do.

Nels said she’s been willing to take risks as a teacher and museum director. “Taking these risks, that’s when I learned more. Sometimes it worked out and sometimes it didn’t. I learned from both.”

She said she encourages volunteers to take risks when designing exhibits if it’s going to be exciting for the visitor.

She said new ideas and changes for the museum come from everyone working together, and they have a five-year plan for exhibits.

As one of 14 children in her family, Nels said she learned there’s “nothing like family.” She said they didn’t have a lot, but they always had fun. “It’s the people around you. It’s your own attitude that makes you happy. All the bells and whistles are not going to make you happy. There are tough times, and there’s always something that you can move to to make you happier.”

She said think about your attitude and have an attitude of gratitude.

From teacher to student

to museum director

Nels taught school for five years before falling in love with Mount Shasta and moving here from southern California. She was hired as a full time teacher in 1980 and retired from Mount Shasta Union School District in 2007. She taught all grades 2 to 8, except 4th, during her career.

She said she always took her classes on field trips to the museum, and she always had a passion for education. So volunteering at the museum after she retired “seemed to fit.”

She went back to school after retiring, taking courses for two years at College of the Siskiyous and for four years at John F. Kennedy University in Berkeley in museum studies.

Now she stays current on what works and what doesn’t by visiting museums and reading blogs. She has learned how to create interesting, easy to read displays to keep visitors interested and coming back.

She is a Mount Shasta Rotary and Chamber of Commerce member, a member of several museum associations and has been a trustee on two school boards. Among other volunteer work, she helps with the two-mile youth run during the Mount Shasta 4th of July Fun Walk and Run.

The museum’s exhibits are engaging with interesting stories and photos that help the visitor connect with events that are part of the area’s history.

Kid-friendly exhibits range from pretending to be a train engineer to driving Lulu Bell, the 1915 Model T fire engine.