Melinda McCrary new executive director of Vallejo Naval and Historical Museum – Times-Herald

It wasn’t as shocking as Dave Kujan’s moment in 1995’s “The Usual Suspects,” but for years Melinda McCrary had an eye-opening experience involving a cup of coffee.

While working for eight years as executive director of the Richmond Museum of History and Culture, McCrary stared at her mug which came from the Vallejo Naval and Historical Museum.

“I worked there with Jim Kern in 2014 on an exhibit that was about home front quilts and World War II stories,” McCrary said. “I really admired Jim’s work and admired the museum, especially the professionalism and organization. I always thought it would be great to work there, so when I saw Jim was retiring, I immediately applied.

The app was the winning ticket as McCrary was chosen to be the new executive director of the Vallejo Museum.

“I feel like I’m still walking the airwaves because this was a national search and I feel honored to be the one chosen,” McCrary said. “Everyone at Vallejo was very welcoming and made me feel very comfortable.”

Not only did McCrary work at the Richmond Museum for eight years, but she is also a professor of anthropology at Contra Costa Community College. She holds two master’s degrees, one in anthropology and the other in museum studies. She grew up on the South Side of Chicago with a military family.

McCrary worked with Kern for two weeks before she replaced him earlier this month. As they worked together, McCrary tried to absorb all of Kern’s knowledge, but most importantly some advice:

“Jim said to me, ‘God gave us two ears and one mouth and that’s because we should listen twice as much as we talk,” McCrary said. “I thought it was so great that I wrote it down on the spot so that I would remember it.”

Kern, who retired after 33 years at the museum, praised McCrary.

“I have known Melinda professionally for several years and always admired the work she did at the Richmond Museum,” Kern said. “So I was happy to see her resume among the candidates. She has an excellent track record of very welcoming and inclusive exhibitions and programs for the whole community. And she comes from a Navy family.

McCrary was quick to point out that museum employees Mary Kuykendall and Trevor Allen made the transition much easier and said the two are great at what they do. She also cited the strong core of volunteers that the museum has among its staff.

Although McCrary has learned a lot, she has her own big plans for the museum. She intends to renovate the South Gallery, which was originally installed in 1980. She also wants to explore more areas and involve education programs more.

“I want to explore everything, every ethnic group,” McCrary said. “I’m very interested in Native American studies and the Chinese experience. I also like fundraising. I want to raise a million dollars for this museum. I want to implement more K-12 programs. I’m also interested in the Black Panthers, having worked in Richmond for so long.

McCrary also wants the experience to be easy-going for everyone.

“I want to improve the experience for everyone and make it accessible to everyone,” said the new general manager. “I want to make it easier for people who are visually impaired or hard of hearing. For people who speak another language like Spanish, I want to make the museum more accessible for them too.

McCrary said the most important thing about her new work that she has been pushing hard for is that she wants to make it a museum for the people.

“I want to tell their stories,” she said. “I’m always looking for more stories and I really want to hear from the community. What stories aren’t we telling? What stories do they want to hear? Museums are for everyone and we need to do a better job of reaching out. hand. What does the community want from me? I want to know.”

After all, McCrary wants to be in town for a while – not just a cup of coffee.

The Vallejo Naval and Historical Museum is located at 734 Marin Street in Vallejo.

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Patrick F. Williams