Heritage of the Americas Museum is truly a journey through time

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Nestled in a quiet knoll on the west side of Cuyamaca College is a hidden treasure of civilizations past, rich in history, art and education. Founded by Bernard “Bud “ Lueck in 1993 out of his lifelong passion for ancient artifacts, the Heritage of the Americas Museum is dedicated to the education of children of all ages. In his lifetime, Lueck became know as one of the most trusted and beloved collectors of artifacts, due to his love, curiosity and unbending desire to spread his wealth towards the education of children and not for profit.

Nestled in a quiet knoll on the west side of Cuyamaca College is a hidden treasure of civilizations past, rich in history, art and education. Founded by Bernard “Bud “ Lueck in 1993 out of his lifelong passion for ancient artifacts, the Heritage of the Americas Museum is dedicated to the education of children of all ages. In his lifetime, Lueck became know as one of the most trusted and beloved collectors of artifacts, due to his love, curiosity and unbending desire to spread his wealth towards the education of children and not for profit.

Kathleen Oatsvall, director said the museum is the culmination of a lifelong dream of Lueck, who began collecting artifacts as a boy. Moving from Spokane because his museum there began charging for children, Lueck designed and built this museum and set up the Foundation to run it.

“All of the exhibits in the museum are the lifelong collections of Bud,” she said. “We are now celebrating our 20th anniversary.”

Oatsvall said what is interesting about this museum, because of Lueck’s orientation, which it faithfully carries on, is the only mission of the museum is education. She said he built the museum for children and field trips and it is written in the bylaws that it will always be freely available to children.

“More than 4,000 children a year come through this museum on field trips,” she said.

She said 33 volunteers run the museum, most of which are retired schoolteachers and children come from all over San Diego County. The museum pays $100 for the bus to help transport children back and forth to the museum.

“The collections are truly incredible in every single wing,” she said. “World class collections. I have been told that our Chinese jade collection is better than the Shanghai Museum. We have a jade burial suit and there are only a few of those in the world.”

She said many ask how he acquired so many things and she contributes his success to a couple of things.

“First, he was an absolutely brilliant man with the finest brain I ever encountered,” she said. “An offshoot to his brilliant mind is that he was a very successful businessman. He started out poor, but became so successful he made a lot of money. He knew what was real and what was not, knew what he wanted and had the money to buy virtually everything he wanted. He was such a nice man and respected in the collectors circles that anytime anyone found a true treasure, their first thought was to call Bud.”

Working at the museum in various capacities for more than 17 years now, Oatsvall said that he always treated everyone there like family and it was a wonderful place to be.

“When he was alive, he was never in his office,” she said. “He was always out in the middle of the museum and as soon as someone walked in the door he would be there to meet them and show him his lifetime of stuff.”

She said it is not a quiet museum and she always tells children that being quiet is not a rule, because they want them to be excited, ask questions and share experiences with each other. Oatsvall said even though it is difficult to maintain the museum financially, it will not stray from the original dreams of Lueck. With the Foundations help, fundraisers, private donations it will continue to provide free access and education for children.

“But there are still many people that do not even know that we are here,” she said. “We call this place the best kept secret in East County.”

Oatsvall said the museum is designed to take patrons on a “journey through time,” beginning with natural history where you find meteorites, minerals and fossils. 

Built with wings of the four directions, the next step of the journey is the archaeology wing with paleo and archaic projectiles made by early man in the Americas and pre-Columbian treasures form Mexico and Peru. 

In anthropology, exhibits portray items of the daily life of historic Native American cultures. Towards the end of the journey through the museum is dedicated to art of all ages from local artists Olaf Wieghorsts to Chines artifacts.

In a recent fundraiser for the museum’s Foundation, mostly comprised of friends and colleagues of Lueck, the museum added a fine art section, with proceeds from sales going to the daily running of the museum. Still on display and for sale, this exhibit features the fine arts of Sally Quennette, Mark Martensen, Ron Dotson, Diana Kam, Jack Jordan, Fred Gregory, Lee Kromschroeder and Gloria Chadwick.

Heritage of the Americas Museum is located at 12110 Cuyamaca College Drive West, El Cajon. 

Youth under 17 are free when accompanied by an adult, adults $3.00 and seniors $2.00.

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