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Paying it forward: Woman’s gesture gives Island County museum visitors a free month
It’s usually wise to be prepared for just about anything when April Fool’s Day comes around.
Rick Castellano admitted he had his guard down when Jackie Feusier approached the front desk of the Island County Historical Museum Tuesday, April 1, as he was waiting for another wave of visiting school children to arrive for a tour.
“She said, ‘It’s my birthday tomorrow and I’d like to sponsor admission for a month as a birthday present to myself,’” said Castellano, the museum’s director. “I said, ‘OK. ... Happy birthday!’”
Feusier endearingly refers to the museum a couple blocks from her home in Coupeville as her stepchild.
She and her husband Joe Walck are ardent supporters and longtime members of the Island County Historical Society. It’s been one of Feusier’s missions to create awareness and foster more support for the museum. She figured the best way to do that was to encourage visitors to experience it for themselves without worrying about finances.
So, for her 62nd birthday, as a gift to herself, she’s paying for all admission to the museum for the month of April. Group tours are excluded.
“Unfortunately, the museum is one of the best kept secrets on Whidbey Island,” she said. “We’re trying to change that.”
Feusier hopes that her gesture will encourage donations and prompt others to sponsor admission whether it be for a month or even a week. Coupeville’s Millie Fonda was so moved she agreed to sponsor the month of November this year.
Feusier, formerly on the historical society’s board of directors, said she wished the museum didn’t have to charge admission, however, it has been necessary to help cover operating expenses.
Located on Alexander Street near the Coupeville Wharf, the museum normally charges $3 for general admission and $2.50 for seniors and students.
“One thing that is so hard for the museum is just keeping its doors open with electric expenses and everything else,” Feusier said. “It costs about $300 a day to keep the museum afloat.”
But admission costs have kept some from going inside the building on Alexander Street near the Coupeville Wharf and experiencing the exhibits. The museum features artifacts from early settlers and sea captains, the first automobile on Whidbey and eight Native American dugout canoes, among other attractions.
A traveling exhibit, “Salish Bounty: Traditional Native American Foods of Puget Sound,” has been featured at the museum since February and wraps up April 13.
Castellano said he believes Feusier’s generous act to sponsor admission for a month is unprecedented at the Coupeville museum, certainly during his eight years as museum director.
“Sometimes, we’ll see families come in and see we have an admission fee and they’ll say, ‘Maybe we’ll come back later,’ yet you know they won’t,” said Castellano. “This is a real good opportunity to reach out to people who may not come here because they can’t afford admission. The more people we can share history with is good for them and certainly good for us, too. That’s why we’re here.”
Feusier said she and her husband of 18 years take pleasure in being involved with the museum and helping with other causes in their community, including the Coupeville Lions. Both retired Navy, they met at a graphics design class at Skagit Valley College in Oak Harbor following their military careers.
Feusier said she hopes that she can inspire others to help. The museum means a lot to her family.
“She’s done a marvelous thing,” said Fran Lessard, a museum volunteer. “She always has. She’s an amazing lady. She does so many things for the museum.”