By Rusty Bradshaw
Guiding visitors through the Sun Cities Del Webb Museum brings back childhood memories for Sun City resident Barb Wagers.
Working as a docent at the museum, 10801 W. Oakmont Drive, those memories come flooding back in some interesting ways.
“I was taking people through the kitchen one day and I caught a whiff of a very familiar smell,” Ms. Wagers said. “It smelled just like my grandmother was in the room cooking.”
Ms. Wagers’ paternal grandparents, N.C. “Jack” and Marie Wagers, were the second owners of the home, but sold it the year after they bought it — 1961 — to Ms. Wagers’ maternal grandparents, John and Chloe MacDonald. The MacDonalds were the first to occupy the home as neither the Wagers or first owner Robert E. Lodge ever lived in the two-bedroom home that was used as a model home for Del Webb’s age-restricted community that opened Jan. 1, 1960.
“I visited my grandparents in this home many times,” Ms. Wagers, originally from Colorado, said. “I spent many Christmases here.”
Those family memories were a big factor in her decision to buy a home in Sun City in 2011.
“If this house had been available at the time I purchased, I would have bought it in a heartbeat,” Ms. Wagers said. “In fact, I really wanted to have a home in phase I, but we ended up in phase II because that house had a bigger garage and yard.”
It was not until 1998 or 1999 that she discovered the home had been turned into a museum.
When the museum started operations, recruiting new homebuyers was not one of the goals, although it worked for Ms. Wagers.
“It’s always been about preserving the past and creating an appreciation for all that went into making the Sun Cities the success they are today,” Ed Allen, former museum board president, stated in an email. “While I don’t have any facts to support this statement, I believe most of our visitors are people who already own homes here. Some bring their visitors, but I don’t think we can take credit for causing people to become property owners.”
However, the museum is getting noticed by community visitors.
“The Sun City Visitors Center points out the museum on their bus tour, which has been helpful in creating traffic for the museum,” Mr. Allen stated.
Visitors Center volunteers are quick to refer people to the museum for historical facts about the Sun Cities, according to Joelynn Higgins, Recreation Centers of Sun City communications and marketing coordinator.
“The mission of the Visitors Center is to market Sun City as it is today to prospective residents,” she stated in an email. “We speak to people about how Sun City began; however, we do not focus on historical info. We refer visitors to the expert docents at the museum to learn accurate facts about Sun City’s history.”
When the Sun Cities Historical Society, the owners and operators of the museum, was incorporated in 1986 and the home purchased in 1990, there was likely no thought of using it as a homebuyer recruiting tool.
“That would be more in line with the mission of the visitors centers (in Sun City and Sun City West),” Mr. Allen stated.
Run entirely by volunteers, the museum is seeing an increasing number of visitors and society board members are seeking more people to offer their time to the task.
“The number of visitors continue to grow, and we’d like to be open more hours, but need more people who are interested in sharing the story of the Sun Cities with visitors,” Mr. Allen stated.
The society board has plans this year to reach out more to the community. According to Bret McKeand, 2017 board president, that will include expanding the museum’s digital footprint, expanding marketing and outreach within the community, and increasing membership.
“Last year was a great year for us,” he stated in the society’s spring newsletter. “Under the leadership of Past President Ed Allen, the museum was able to upgrade several exhibits, expand its events at the museum and in the community, and conduct a very successful gala fundraiser.”
He added the board is planning to build on that momentum. Museum officials already added a third day of open hours. The museum had been open 1-4 p.m. Monday and Wednesday, but was increased to include 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Friday. The museum is closed from May 15 to Sept. 15.
To increase those hours further, the society board needs more volunteers. A personal connection to the early days of the Sun Cities, such as Ms. Wagers’ and new docent third generation resident John Fornell, is not a requirement.
Ms. Wagers, though, delights in being able to provide little snippets of personal history that show visitors a more intimate side of the community.
“It really killed me when they tore the Kings Inn down,” she said. “That’s where we stayed when we visited.”
The Kings Inn was located at the intersection of Grand and 107th Avenue, not far from her grandparents’ home.
Ms. Wagers also played tennis at the brand new Bell Recreation Center, 16820 N. 99th Ave., when she visited during her days as a college student. During tours of the museum, she tells visitors details about the home’s history, like the back room was once an outdoor patio converted to an Arizona room in 1969, and that there was once a half wall in the kitchen separating the cooking and dining areas. She also talks about how her grandfather, Daddy Mac as he was called, reshaped the master bedroom to extend into the Arizona room and he added a bathroom.
“The house has been restored, as much as possible, back to its original configuration when it was a model home, right down to the 1960s furniture,” Ms. Wagers said. “I can still remember watching boxing with my grandfather in the living room.”
The museum is an ideal “home” for those curious about Sun City’s past, according to Mr. Allen.
“We like to refer to it as the ‘mystery of history,’ the kind of people who driving along Del Webb or Meeker boulevards and wonder how the street got that name,” he said. “People who love to hear others say, ‘I didn’t know that!’ when they share some small, newsy nugget from the past.”
Editor’s Note: Mr. McKeand, Sun Cities Historical Society 2017 board president, is Independent Newsmedia, Inc. USA vice president.