“Ms. Ladda Lucy,” a spirited fixture of historical Vashon, will represent the Heritage Museum as the third candidate for unofficial island mayor.
The character will be played by Deb Phillimore Dammann, board member and past president of the Vashon-Maury Island Heritage Association, who said that Miss Lucy caught on five years ago as branding for the museum during the annual Strawberry Festival.
The real Mrs. Melissa Lucy Jaynes was crowned Strawberry Queen of Vashon Island in 1924, beginning her reign at 104 years old.
“I borrowed her name but not really her persona,” said Dammann.
Her embodiment of Ms. Lucy is more playful than the woman whose photograph is archived at the museum, solemnly gazing upon her court as she is presented with a gigantic strawberry crown to mark her rule over the day’s events.
“I’m really devoted to local history, as it is so important to the community, especially for kids and for families moving here from elsewhere who want to grow their roots and explore the island,” said Dammann, adding that many people often find themselves attracted to Vashon while at a loss for explaining exactly why. “I think history is almost spiritual.”
The Vashon Heritage Museum, which recently exhibited “Joy and Heartache,” chronicling the experiences of the island’s Japanese immigrant community, is entering the race to supplement the museum’s monthly operating expenses and contribute toward the total yearly operating budget, presently set at about $192,000.
“I don’t know that an organization like this could run on much more than a shoestring,” said Dammann, emphasizing that most of the exhibits are generously underwritten by community sponsors, grants and private donations.
In 2017, the board was awarded private donations and grant money for critical repairs to the museum’s foundation, which was constructed from rubble when the former church was built in the 1900s. While the work saved the museum from structural failure, it also seriously depleted the board’s savings.
“The community was very generous; we were given a lot of grant money, but we also had to draw down our reserves,” said Dammann, “and we need to build those back up again.”
Despite the continued support for programming, with a myriad of routine expenses, from the considerable offsite storage budget to paying for brochures on the ferries, the need is great.
“We definitely need help with it as you can see, and that’s why I’m running for unofficial mayor, because I want to help the bottom line,” said Dammann. “It’s going to be fun, and a good way to support the chamber as well as the museum.”
Meanwhile, the board is already thinking of ways for the museum to best serve the island in the future. Dammann said that plans are being drawn by Pacific Studios, a Seattle-based architecture firm, to renovate and modernize the interior and permanent exhibition space of the museum.
“Our aim is to create a dynamic, thought-provoking museum in which displays are frequently changeable so that we’re offering something fresh and interesting — new stories, new insights,” she said. “And we want to make it a usable space for public programs. The ‘new museum’ will tell a diversity of cultural histories illustrating how humans have impacted the natural environment and influenced island life.”
Dammann would like new displays to include QR codes, scanned by patrons using their smartphones, that will allow for immersive, digital storytelling and content relevant to the next generation. In 2019, the museum will next focus on the untold LGBTQ history of Vashon.
The additional flexibility permitted by the renovation will elevate the museum to standards Dammann believes will most engage the greater Vashon community.
“If we can tell our grantmakers that everyone comes here to learn from the exhibits and takes advantage of the incredible resource we have here, I think we could secure lots more grant money,” said Dammann. “[The museum has become] much more visible and lots more popular over the years, but we really want people to come and enjoy it.”
Those interested in joining the race for Vashon’s unofficial mayor have until Friday, June 1, to declare.
Candidates must select an island nonprofit to fundraise for, submit a letter from the organization giving permission to fundraise and declare their run to the chamber and newspapers. Islanders vote for their favorite candidates: $1 is one vote. Winners are announced during Strawberry Festival. Visit vashonchamber.com for more information.