Creating advocates for history through the stories of greater Los Angeles.
We turn our attention with this month’s Staff Spotlight to Homestead docent, Kathy Gunn. She is one of our longest-serving volunteer staff members, joining the ranks back in 1985. This means that Kathy has given tours through five presidents, five governors, and ten versions of Microsoft Windows! Like many of our volunteer staff, history has always been interesting to her. When Kathy first joined us, she was a professional embroiderer and had a great understanding of how clothes were made throughout history. Kathy has also worked in the banking and insurance industries and now assists her husband, John, with his private video production company. Homestead Operations Assistant, Steven Dugan, recently interviewed Kathy to get her perspective on her interest in history and experiences as a docent for the past 30 years.
What motivates you to continue giving tours?
I really enjoy sharing the history of California with visitors. Through the Workman and Temple families, we learn a lot about how life was, its similarities and differences from our life, and the challenges they had to deal with, sometimes successfully, sometimes not. I think the time period covered by our tours is not taught much. It’s also a period with romantic “memories” which are often not accurate. It is important to understand the past, and how similar life is for each one of us, and how much we share as humans.
What do you hope visitors gain out of a visit to the Homestead?
I have always loved history and biographies, so I hope that I can spark an interest in the stories of our ancestors; how they led their lives, what political pressures were on them, what decisions they made, and how they felt about those decisions. I hope I can share what was going on in the world, and how the families fit into that.
What inspired your decision to volunteer?
At the time, the embroidery group I worked with included a lady who was a friend of a curator in the costume department at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. He and his colleagues were giving a series of lectures on clothing styles of the 1920s at the Homestead. We attended the lectures together, and afterward had a mini-tour of the museum. The docent for our group said the museum was interested in volunteers to be docents, and were offering a class. I was interested in learning more California history, so I volunteered, was interviewed, and accepted.
If you could ask a Workman or Temple family member one question about something you’ve always wondered; what would it be?
This is a hard one. I often think about what Mr. Workman and Mr. Temple were thinking as they made decisions that affected themselves, their families, and their history. Certainly, they had no idea the long-lasting impact those decisions would make on our history.
I also can’t quite wrap my head around moving across the ocean and half-way across our country, to settle in a land where the culture, language, and lifestyle were so different. Earning a living was very much a day in, day out physical struggle, and at least half of the people you dealt with looked at you as hostile.
I am also interested in the Temple family as Latinos in California in the 1920s, before and after they “struck it rich.” How did their background, family history, and their place in the community reflect on the legacy they left? We need to understand the period in which they lived, and their position in it, in order to make a sensitive presentation to our visitors, which can help us all in understanding our current challenges.