NEW PORT RICHEY — Julie Obenreder would have been proud.
It has been nearly seven months since the 98-year-old nurse known for her compassion and love of history passed away, but a newly renovated West Pasco Historical Society museum is taking her dream to a new level.
Mrs. Obenreder was a founding member of the society, which has reopened its museum with a bang at 6431 Circle Drive in the heart of New Port Richey. The West Pasco Historical Society Rao Musunuru M.D. Museum has a whole new layout and some gems that will take Floridians down West Pasco's memory lane.
Society chairman and past president David Prace beams as he shows off the results of $50,000 worth of renovations to the museum that in 1913 was part of the Seven Springs schoolhouse.
Not long ago, things looked bleak for the museum. Mold had started to take over and the walls began to come apart. But donations from Musunuru and others, as well as a new layout for the exhibits, has given the museum fresh life, with a grand opening two weeks ago that was a big success.
"We're just delighted," Prace said. "We had some 300 people come through here on the weekend we opened back up."
There are some new historic gems as well that take visitors from the days of Native Americans through World War II and beyond.
The society's revamped "Indian Room" includes a mannequin in Tocobaga dress that points to a change in philosophy for the museum's presentation of Native American history.
Prace said in the past the Seminole Tribe has been represented, but truly it was the Tocobagans that first inhabited West Pasco. Prace points to an impressive collection in the museum of arrowheads, stone tools, and pottery that have been uncovered in West Pasco.
"This area is so rich in Indian lore," Prace said.
West Pasco's colorful characters are also well represented in the museum. Names like Decubellis, Rowan, and Hudson adorn the museum's new hallway photo gallery of West Pasco's founding families, which hang opposite a collection of water color paintings by local artists of early pioneer life.
Also newly exhibited is a wing dedicated to old-time medicine in West Pasco, with a display of the desk of Dr. Thomas Brookman who practiced in the 1940s and 50s, and also served as New Port Richey's mayor, Prace said.
In the same room, West Pasco's military, law enforcement, and firefighting heroes are well represented. The museum has a collection of World War II memorabilia that does America's greatest generation proud, along with a new exhibit of uniforms from all branches of the military.
West Pasco's finest are also represented with a new display of Pasco sheriff, New Port Richey police, city and county firefighter uniforms. Also on display is a piece of stone an area firefighter brought home from 2001 relief efforts at the World Trade Center ground zero.
Then there is the library, aptly named the Julie Obenreder Memorial Library Wing, after the woman so instrumental in preserving West Pasco's history. A shrine in her honor in the library shows the smile so many loved, and Prace said the society will be holding a dedication to her in December.
But it's the new interest in the museum that would have most excited her, Prace said.
"She was very progressive,'' he said. "I think she would have loved it."