Heritage of the Americas Museum teams up with San Diego County Library Legends Project


It was an enlightening kickoff for the dual exhibition at the Heritage of Americas Museum on the campus on Cuyamaca College as the San Diego County Library’s “San Diego Legends: Living Well” art exhibit combined efforts in celebrating three years of the Legends Project and Heritage of Americas Museum’s Founders Day celebration.

It was an enlightening kickoff for the dual exhibition at the Heritage of Americas Museum on the campus on Cuyamaca College as the San Diego County Library’s “San Diego Legends: Living Well” art exhibit combined efforts in celebrating three years of the Legends Project and Heritage of Americas Museum’s Founders Day celebration.

San Diego Legends is a partnership with the Aging & Independence Services that brings light to local people that have done extraordinary things for their community through their lives, continuing their contributions in their golden years. It all began in 2013, picking people from the communities that exemplify lifestyles that embrace inclusion, spiritual integrity, humanism and healthy living. At its opening reception on Jan. 21, Legends met with the public along with the art and together celebrated the national recognized campaign in conjunction with the museums celebration in honor of the museum’s founders Bud and Bernadette Lueck. It was truly an exceptional day of art, local history and legends within our communities.

Kathleen Oatsvall, director of the Heritage of the Americas Museum said she loves this joint event and the fact that the museum has the ability to display all three years of the Legends Project at once. She gave a little history on the museum’s founders and how their dedication to history and arts makes the museum special and unique from any other museum.

“I love this place, that is why I am here all the time, and this is our Founder’s Da,” she said. “Our founders, Bud (Bernard) and Bernadette Lueck, made this museum unique. His dad was a farmer, so he’d follow him around finding arrowheads, and then they sent him to an art class at the local Oshkosh Museum. He liked the art class, but he loved the museum. So he just kept going back, and back. Later he started collecting, collecting, collecting.”

Oatsvall said Bud and his Bernadette put together was truly remarkable collection, calling it a “Journey through Time” framed in four wings.

Natural History has the oldest, Archeology, pre-Columbian, Anthropology, after the Europeans come, then he put contemporary Western art in the art wing. China and Asia is such a big part of America’s heritage because of the land bridge, so he put together a Chinese display.

“I don’t know what, but he just seemed to always be at the right place, at the right time, and with the right people. The collection is truly incredible. It has the jade burial suit, which there are very few of those in the world and the jade dragon ship. He designed this for kids. Even with this world-class collection it is all about the kids. We have 60 kids here every day,” she said.

Oatsvall also thanked Legends artist (and a 2016 Legend recipient as well) for her portrait of Bud Lueck, which she said was wonderful adding him into the existing Legends exhibit. Mills’ portrait has a permanent spot in the museum, highlighting the man who made a special place for children to learn about history and art. “He’s not a living legend, but he truly is a legend,” she said.

Dr. Samuel Ciccati, former Cuyamaca College president said that stories have a tendency to grow over time, as he was president of the college when Bud Lueck approached him about a spot for his museum.

“I felt it was a wonderful way to assist the college and get people out of the campus,” said Ciccati. “As we walked, we came to this spot of the campus and thought it was the right place. This is the 24th anniversary of this museum. Some kids that came at that time at 10-years-old have probably brought their children here. This is probably one of the first cultural experiences that kids in East County had taking a field trip from their school to this museum.”

He added that the reason that this museum has lasted so long is the hundreds of people that volunteer as docents. “This museum would not be here if not for them,” he said.

Susan Moore, deputy director of the San Diego County Library said it was funny hearing Ciccati and Oatsvall talk about how stories get larger each time that they are told, as so was true with the living legends and the Luecks.

“All of our legends are a little bit myth, a little bit fact,” she said. “The stories seem to get bigger when we tell them to others because they are people that impressed us. I think we all want to live lives of purpose and these are people that help us to realize what it is to live well and to contribute to our community. They’re not celebrities, although they are to us. They are people that contribute wonderful things in our community and quietly go about with the purpose of making our world a little bit better.”

She said the idea of the Legends is to try and bring a little bit of that story to life and it has been her pleasure to conduct the interviews for the people chosen as legends throughout the continuing exhibition.

“I can tell you that every one that I’ve met has made me want to dig a little deeper to bring a little more to my community and get something done. Because most of these folks, life started again at 60, 65 years,” she said.

Artist Mona Mills said she has been very fortunate to be around and able when the museum was in its early stages and was able to work with Bud and Bernadette.

“They were legends, and still are,” she said. “A legend is real and last and last. I’ve also been fortunate to work with the library system. To me, the wonderful legends that I have painted, I now count these legends as my very dear friends. This would have not have happened if it had not been for the County library system. These are all ordinary people doing extraordinary things.”

Several of the living legends were present for the reception, not only speaking to the crowd, but taking time afterwards to answer questions and have some one-on-one time with them.

2013 Legend Phebe Burnham, now 96 has been an icon in the San Diego art world, reaching far beyond its boundaries and an inspiration to all those that meet her. She talked about the privilege of being recognized for her accomplishments, but said that in her life, she just does what she loves the most. She shared her latest portrait that she was asked to do and as always, her work was impeccable and intricate in her unmistakable style of painting.

Another 2013 legend Randy Edmonds is a respected Southern California Tribal Elder and Native American activist. He said that he felt it was his part in life to bring the truth out about the history of Native Americans, as it is not taught correctly within the school system. His undying dedication to bringing together tribes through the use of the Pow-Wow began when it was still illegal for Native Americans to gather in native ceremonies. Today, he leads powwows throughout Southern California, founded the Indian Human Resource Center and the national Urban Indian Council.

Dr. Joaquin Anguera, another 2016 legend recipient is a professor of Gerontology and Aging at SDSU and recently appointed by Gov. Jerry Brown to the California Commission on Aging. He said that as a community we have fought for gay rights, equal rights for women and marriage equality. “It is time we open the discussion on ageism,” he said. “We are at the prime of our lives and many of us our still active and contributing to our communities. It is time to take a stand against ageism as it is as discriminatory as all the other issues we fight for.”

The Legends Project is on display at the Heritage of Americas Museum on the Cuyamaca College campus located at 12110 Cuyamaca College Drive West in El Cajon until Feb. 23.

If you have not had a chance to see the Legends Project, the Heritage of the Americas is a treasure chest full of wonders and no better venue to see the art of Mona Mills and the legacy of Bud and Bernadette Lueck. A family friendly atmosphere will bring joy and education to children. But you don’t have to be a child to enjoy the wonderment of Lueck’s private collection or to learn through the art of Mona Mills that legends are alive and well within our community.


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