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Feud erupts on naming of West Pasco Historical museum

NEW PORT RICHEY — The anonymous donor stepped up in the nick of time.

In the last couple years, the West Pasco Historical Society had seen its operating balance dwindle to $1,000. It had secured grants from the city to refurbish its museum building near Sims Park but didn't have its own money to put up.

Then, in August a year ago, a large pledge arrived out of nowhere and saved the day. The very next month, society members voted unanimously to name the building after the donor — without even knowing who he was.

The big unveiling came in February: Dr. Rao Musunuru, a well-known local cardiologist, was the man behind the money.

And now the society, having completed its face-lift and added new exhibits, is eager to slap his name on the museum. In addition — and at the doctor's request — the library wing is set to be named for the society's first president, who died this year.

Except the society, according to one early member, already named the library after someone else.

"I just don't like them rewriting history," said Frances Mallett, who is 91 and a longtime preservationist.

• • •

Since it opened in 1983, the historical society museum has not changed. Same exhibits, same artifacts.

But with Musunuru's gift, an undisclosed amount, the society was able to hire a curatorial consultant, who helped cull the collection and discard items of little historical value, said Bob Hubach, the society's current president.

All the existing exhibits have been redone.

"We've made them tell a better story," he said.

In addition, the museum acquired two "once in a lifetime" collections.

One comprises items that belonged to Dr. Edwin Brookman, a local physician and mayor of New Port Richey from 1944 to 1952. His medical instruments, desk and chair are part of the display.

The other comes from the estate of Elizabeth MacManus, late mother of University of South Florida political science professor Susan MacManus. The "Lutz-Land O'Lakes Olden Days Collection of Elizabeth Riegler MacManus" includes furniture, clothing, photographs and documents.

"That won't happen again," Hubach said about the acquisition of the two collections.

At the ribbon cutting scheduled for Sept. 10, the sign out front will say West Pasco Historical Society — Rao Musunuru M.D. Museum and Library.

The library wing, which is connected to the museum, will be named for Julie Obenreder. In addition to her founding work for the historical society, she was one of the area's first obstetrics nurses and is remembered for delivering African-American babies in the area when all the hospitals were white-only. She was 98 when she died in March.

• • •

Back to the feud.

Mallett, in a letter published this month in the Pasco Times and in a subsequent interview, complained about the naming of the museum for Musunuru who also has a CARES activity center bearing his name. In her view, the museum shouldn't be named for any one individual. Not when so many people, Mallett included, devoted untold time and energy to the society.

"I sure don't want my name on anything," Mallett said. "We volunteered out of the goodness of our hearts. We don't want anything named after us."

Hubach said Musunuru wanted the naming because of the recognition his name carries.

"His reason to us was that because he is so well-known in the area, he feels that his association with the historical society can only benefit us by other people realizing the importance of history and possibly becoming a sponsor," Hubach said. "He felt that it could only help our financial cause."

The volunteer-run society has an annual operating budget of about $3,000, Hubach said, and it struggles just to make that.

As for the library, Mallett says it is already named for Jessie Hyde, a longtime museum librarian.

Hubach counters that a niece of Hyde, who served on the society board, says that's not the case.

"It was never named for anyone," Hubach said. "So that was a completely false statement."

What does Mallett say about that?

"I personally bought the sign with her name on it," she said. "We had a ceremony and had it placed up there, over the library door."

She doesn't know what year that was, or what became of it.

The hand-carved sign, it seems, was lost to history.

Molly Moorhead can be reached at moorhead@sptimes.com or on Twitter at @mmoorheadtimes.

>>if you go

Grand reopening

The museum's grand re-opening and open house will be 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sept. 10 at the museum, 6431 Circle Blvd. There will be food, entertainment and a first look at the refurbished exhibits. A celebration dinner will be at 6 p.m. Sept. 16 at Spartan Manor, 6121 Massachusetts Ave. Dinner tickets are $30. Sponsorship opportunities are available. For reservations, call Bob Hubach at (727) 847-0680.

Feud erupts on naming of West Pasco Historical museum 08/20/11 [Last modified: Tuesday, August 23, 2011 1:39pm]
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