It started with a phone call. Diane Ambil and I were talking about an article I wanted to see in the next publication of the Okanagan Historical Society Reports. As the OHS’s local editor, Diane was thrilled with a proposed piece on Mah Yick—owner of a hand laundry who bucked a trend. I’m not sure how we landed on a subject so dear to my heart. Maybe my nearing retirement brought it on.

I told Diane my news—that I was pleased the executive agreed I could stay on next year for two days a week to work in the archives.

I told Diane that there are still things I’d like to see completed—like the institution of a good records management program like the bigger museums. After all, we are a bigger museum now.

Volunteers Lise Ouimet and Nancy Tait have been reconciling the museum’s database with me, establishing locations for artefacts as we moved into the new space. We’ve also been solving problems. Weird problems like how sometimes artefacts have more than one number. In the past, when a number wore off an artefact, staff and volunteers re-accessioned the artefacts so we had a record. As I like to say, numbers are cheap! It isn’t the best solution, but in the past there was no guaranteed way to search our database by their descriptions. Sometimes artefacts were misidentified. Sometimes people made mistakes. Go figure. All of us are human.

In the meantime, Erin Stodola, Registrar of Collections, applied for a competitive stream of funding through MAP (Museum Assistance Program). She was not successful, but Erin’s an optimist. She planned to reapply in 2022. Both Erin and I wanted to upgrade the database from ACCESS to a recognized museum and archival records management system.

We currently have over 54,000 entries and ACCESS promises to explode at any given moment. Whenever it misbehaves, we back up the file, cross our fingers and toes, and run the repair function in the software’s toolbox. So far it has worked, but ACCESS doesn’t like multiple users of the program—different stations sharing the information not the database program. We don’t use the program at the same time of course, but ACCESS doesn’t share. Period.

So, Erin researched her databases and settled on Past Perfect. It could accommodate museum artefact and archival records.  Sounded perfect, like the name. 

 But back to Diane’s phone call . . .

“I sold my house, and I have a bit of money,” Diane said. “I could purchase the new database and fund its conversion.” Diane knew it was going to be expensive.

I smiled and thanked her. The next time we spoke, she wanted me to go to the Credit Union with her. I wondered what that would look like? Were we going to withdraw a lot of cash? In twenties or one hundred dollar bills? I might look like I was strong arming a fellow senior.  I let Diane think about it for a while. I thought I’d take an impulse purchase out of the equation.

Then I talked to a member of the Museum’s advisory team. I told my confidant that this was a secret and that I felt a little weird about being asked to go to the Credit Union to withdraw a large amount of money. His response was witty: “Just don’t look at the cameras.” Sage advice.  I laughed out loud. It sounded like he was experienced.

The next time we spoke we talked about how Diane would like to make a presentation. She wanted to earmark her gift to the archives and this project. I suggested a board meeting, thinking at least there would be witnesses. I wouldn’t be strong arming anyone.

So on September 20st Diane Ambil made her presentation at a monthly board meeting. She was smiling. She told me she was just so thrilled to make this gift happen, that she felt like she was making a difference to our organization, and that she’d never imagined that she would be able to afford such a gift.

Thank you Diane for dreaming big.