Grand County museums feel coronavirus crunch

The Doc Susie exhibit at Cozens Ranch Museum tells the story of one of Colorado's first female doctors who lived in Fraser most her life. When the COVID-19 pandemic began, the Grand County Historical Association looked at the history of the 1918 pandemic when Doc Susie would have treated patients.
Amy Golden /

When the Grand County Historical Association faced a pandemic, it looked to the past.

The museums’ staff went to the archives and looked at how the Spanish flu impacted Grand County over 100 years ago.

According to their research, Kremmling shuttered its doors to keep out the disease. The famous Fraser doctor known as “Doc Susie” treated pandemic patients utilizing revolutionary practices including hand washing — which wasn’t common then — and her approach to respiratory illnesses.

While record keeping was spotty, Executive Director Shanna Ganne found about 35 Grand County obituaries attributing deaths to the flu. Grand had a population of roughly 3,000 at the time, meaning at least one in 100 citizens died from the 1918 pandemic.

“That affected our decision in treating (the current pandemic) with seriousness, listening to the science and what was happening in other places,” Ganne explained.

Her staff also fell into the population considered vulnerable to COVID-19. Because of this, the nonprofit became one of the first businesses in the county to close down when it shuttered its four museums March 15.

The historical association operates the Cozens Ranch, Emily Warner Field Aviation, Heritage Park and Pioneer Village museums. They had been seeing more visits until that point, thanks in part to some marketing grants.

Now, with a drop in admissions by 70%, a loss of 25% of annual memberships, no field trips or programs, a fall in local grant funding and no annual fundraiser, the GCHA is facing a $100,000 deficit due to COVID-19.

The association has been applying for every grant it can, Ganne said. Since March, GCHA has applied for over $250,000. Thanks to their efforts, the association was awarded $10,500 from the Colorado Humanities’ funds related to the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act.

Ganne said the museum also received $30,000 from the Paycheck Protection Program, which covered the payroll of the association’s three full time employees and one part time worker for three months.

Historical photos decorate the wall at Cozens Ranch Museum, one of four museums operated by the Grand County Historical Association. The nonprofit is facing a budget crisis following a drop in visits and a loss of grant funding due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Amy Golden /

The GCHA has also had to get creative with how to raise the money typically provided by events that aren’t possible this year.

“I think everybody’s had to use this time to really reexamine how they’re doing business, what is working and what is not,” Ganne said.

To make up for the annual fundraiser that typically brings in $30,000 to $40,000 each year, GCHA will be hosting a raffle. Artist Karen Vance has donated an original painting valued at $15,000 to be raffled off by the association.

Tickets go on sale Sept. 1 for $25 and can be bought at the museums with a drawing scheduled Dec. 1.

Ganne is also hoping to get a grant to cover next year’s payroll. The GCHA continues work on a master plan outlining needed expansions and updates to the museums, along with new exhibits.

One major part of the master plan focuses on archive storage. The GCHA holds the county’s archives, and Ganne said that they have run out of space.

“We have projects that we’re working on,” Ganne said. “We just keep moving forward to try and make this happen.”

Part of the reason it was hard to track the number of county deaths from the 1918 pandemic was because the Spanish flu came in two waves. That’s something that weighs on Ganne’s mind as Grand and the country see a growing number of COVID-19 cases.

“I do know that if we had to shutter our doors again, especially during the summer, it would be trouble,” Ganne said. “I was really lucky we didn’t have to let any staff go, but I have concerns moving forward.”

Like many county businesses, summer tourism helps GCHA through the mud season. July is typically the best month for museum visits, but numbers have been way down.

In June of 2019, the museums saw 646 visitors including field trips. This June, the museum saw 84 visitors. Visits are not the only revenue stream for GCHA, but they do help.

According to a survey from the American Alliance of Museums, one in three of the country’s museums may not survive this year as they face cuts from all sides. But Ganne thinks keeping history alive is something that has become even more significant as Grand County faces the pandemic.

“History gives us a reference point for everything,” Ganne said. “It’s our identity. It’s our heart and soul of the community. It explains why things are the way they are. I think that’s really important.”

Anyone can support GCHA and other museums in Grand County by purchasing an annual membership, giving donations or visiting any of their locations.

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