Photo and Article originally published in the Claremore Daily Progress by Tom Fink
The impact of Claremore as “Museum City” was the subject of last week’s discussion at the Claremore Collective Think Tank, with a trio of local museum experts serving as special guests for the discussion.
Wayne McCombs, Tad Jones, and Andy Couch with the J.M. Davis Arms & Historical Museum, the Will Rogers Memorial Museum, and Claremore Museum of History (MoH), respectively were on-hand for the meeting of local entrepreneurs.
“First of all, Claremore Collective is a group of young professionals who have come together to help facilitate good conversations to help expand the constituents and people who live here in Claremore’s minds to see the bigger picture of making Claremore a better place,” said Jerrad Coots, Claremore Collective. “During my time with the Collective and the various Think Tanks we’ve held in the past, my mind has been opened to the many things that help make Claremore tick, and all the things that contribute to make Claremore grow, chief among those is tourism.
“About a month ago, (Claremore Collective member) John Ray reached out to me and said that Andy (Couch) was interested in talking to us about the Claremore Museum of History,” he continued, “and at that same time, we started hearing about Claremore being named Museum City — I think that’s a big deal. Tourism is very big to the city of Claremore, regardless of what type of business you’re in— it touches everybody, and today, we’ve got three of the directors of the museums we have right here in Claremore: Andy Couch with the Claremore Museum of History, Tad Jones of the Will Rogers Memorial Museum, and Wayne McCombs from the J.M. Davis Arms & Historical Museum.”
Claremore Museum of History Director Andy Couch was the first to speak.
“I took this job (as Claremore Museum of History director) at the end of November 2017, and was meeting everyone in town,” Couch began. “I visited each museum and met Dr. Danette Boyle, Tad Jones, and Wayne McCombs -- I’d actually read one of Wayne’s books on baseball before we met, so it was awesome to get to meet him in person. At each museum I visited we all discussed doing something together — a joint program or exhibit, and when I got to talking to Tad, and Tanya Andrews at Visit Claremore we felt the same way, and we soon began to look at how we structured tourism of the museums here in Claremore.
“Out of that, the Claremore Museums Coalition — including all four museums — developed, and the town was branded ‘Museum City’,” he said.
“Most everyone has heard of Will Rogers, and I had too, growing up here my whole life,” Jones began. “We all knew how big he was, that he was in movies, but not a lot of people know that his very first talking movie was shot down here by the Gazebo, back when it was a dirt road. People of this generation may not know that in his day, he was the number one movie star in America, and in his last movie, ‘Steamboat Round the Bend’, the name of the steamboat was ‘The Claremore Queen’ -- the whole country was seeing Claremore because of Will Rogers and what he was doing at the time.
“Claremore has these great museums that bring people to town not just around the country, but from around the world,” he said. “The Route 66-ers who are traveling the Mother Road are coming to Claremore and the big attractions we have to offer them are our museums. We have something that virtually no other town in America has in that we have more museums per capita than any other city or town in the country, if not the world. To have these four museums that we can use to promote Claremore as a city and to be right on Route 66, which has only continued to grow in popularity, is a tremendous incentive for people to come to our town, to stay in our hotels, to eat in our restaurants, and to go back to their home states or countries and tell their friends and family about what a great town Claremore is.”
McCombs concurred with Couch and Jones’s assessment of the city’s museums as being key in attracting tourism dollars to the city.
“We’re fortunate that we all get along — it’s great for all of us in that what’s good for Tad’s museum is good for me, what’s good for Andy’s museum is good for Tad’s and so on,” McCombs said. “What’s great for one of us is great for all of us, and what’s great for all of us is really great for Claremore. Even if a person has been to the museums before, we’re always doing something new — new exhibits, new activities, so I’d encourage them to just come by and see what’s different.
“Each of us is more than just what people may think of us as being. Claremore Museum of History is much more than just old photos — it’s amazing, the number of people who have come from Claremore to go on to worldwide fame,” he said. “The Will Rogers Memorial Museum is much more than a statue of Will and some old newspaper clippings — Will Rogers was the most popular man in the world in his day, he probably could have been president if he’d wanted to be but he stayed humble and kept close to his roots, which were in Claremore, and the gun museum is more than just a collection of old weapons -- it’s the largest privately-held collection like it in the world.
“Our museums bring so much revenue into Claremore,” he said. “Let me give you an example. Our little gun museum gets from the state, about $240,000 a year, which isn’t much, but for which I’m grateful. As far as making an economic impact goes, we generate $4.1 million for our museum, so there’s not doubt whatsoever that tourism absolutely impacts the lives of people in Claremore.”
Following McCombs’s remarks, he, Jones, and Couch answered questions from members of the Claremore Collective.