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Concord student intern curates exhibit celebrating Walnut Creek pioneer


Student Ricke Branum arranged an internship at the Shadelands Ranch HIstorical Museum through assistance from Associate Professor Robert Phelps.

  • June 2, 2009

When history major Ricke Branum uncovered the many contributions Mary Penniman, daughter of Walnut Creek pioneer and Shadelands Ranch founder Hiram Penniman, had made to the community in her own right, he was eager to share her accomplishments with the public.

On the 100th anniversary of Mary Penniman’s death in March, Shadelands Ranch Historical Museum in Walnut Creek –– once the home of the pioneer Penniman family –– unveiled “Mary Penniman: A Woman of Our Time,” an exhibit Branum curated and designed during his junior year.

“Mary Penniman worked hard but didn’t receive recognition because she was a woman,” he said. “If she lived today, and if I knew Mary now, I would be honored to have her in my life”

Branum, 35, a U.S. Army veteran, interned at the Walnut Creek Historical Society, Shadelands Ranch Museum through the Concord Campus history program led by Assistant Professor Linda Ivey and Associate Professor Robert Phelps.

“They [Walnut Creek Historical Society] were very enthusiastic about working with CSU East Bay and are looking for more internship possibilities right now,” Phelps said. Ivey and Phelps are exploring similar collaborations with the Walnut Creek, Richmond and Contra Costa County historical societies to provide internship opportunities for Cal State East Bay students.

“Internships are a part of the vision for the history major at the Concord Campus which has three components,” Phelps said. “First is offering the history major at the Concord Campus; second is the development of internships and a program in Public History; and third is the creation of a historical research and preservation laboratory in partnership with the Concord Campus library.”

Branum’s work with the Shadelands Ranch Museum is just the start, Phelps predicts.

“Mary was a wonderful person at heart,” said Branum about his research subject. “Everyone should know what was going on during this period of history, it wasn’t always the men that did everything.”

Mary Penniman ran the family’s fruit and nut farm, helped sell the harvest and adopted a 10-year-old orphan girl. Mary Penniman’s death certificate listed “none” as her occupation, because women’s economic contributions to the family were not recognized during the early 1900s. Branum gathered most of his information and documentation about her life through her religious affiliations. Mary Penniman volunteered for the Christian and Missionary Alliance, a local Christian organization, throughout her adult life.

“There is little about her life that was public knowledge,” Branum said. “There’s hardly anything on the Internet, except for information on the Christian and Missionary Alliance, I had to do a lot of research with the Alliance to learn about her life.”

History projects and internships, such as Branum’s, are expected to help expand the history program at the Concord Campus, Phelps said.

“We hope that these Contra Costa County relationships will mirror the partnerships we have developed between the Department of History and the Hayward Area Historical Society, the California Historical Society and the Oakland Museum of California,” Phelps said. “The goal is to provide our students with real world experience outside of the classroom, with internships and other collaborative opportunities in the field of Public History.”

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