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Making folks feel at home, even in a museum

Community Portrait
By: Michael Kirby
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Jan Hungerford is one of the welcoming faces you see when you visit the Placer County Courthouse Museum located in the Auburn Historic Courthouse. Lively, fun and full of information, Hungerford just loves her volunteer job, which she carries out four to five days a month. For five years she has graciously greeted guests who visit the museum, answers questions about the displays and has a genuine interest in the history of Auburn and Placer County. In turn, she learns interesting historic facts about life in Auburn. Hungerford has lived in the area since 1956 and operated two state-licensed daycare centers in Meadow Vista and Colfax for more than 37 years. In retirement, Hungerford still likes to stay busy and is happy getting out and being with people, especially seeing children who come to the museum. “I miss seeing children from my years in the daycare business,” Hungerford said. Hungerford uses Dial-a-Ride to get from her home at Auburn Ravine Terrace to the museum, because she no longer drives. She greets each visitor with a smile, gets them to sign the visitor register and marvels at the variety of places they come from and how far the visitors are sometimes away from their homes. She explains what’s in the museum, mentions any special exhibits, answers questions, offers historical facts and within a few minutes seems like an old friend, helping each guest feel at home in Auburn. A friend suggested that she consider being a volunteer as a docent at the museum, after they had both retired and began asking each other, “what are we going to do now that we’re retired?” At nearly 81 years old, the vivacious Hungerford likes to be active and thrives on meeting and talking to people. She has a strong interest in Auburn’s history and one of the items to do on her short bucket list is to visit the Hawver Cave near the American River Confluence. J.C. Hawver, a local dentist with an interest in archaeology, discovered the cave in the early 1900s near the limestone quarry. The cave is currently closed to visitors, but a display in the museum has Hungerford eager to explore it. The museum in the courthouse is one of three Placer County museums located in Auburn, and the one Hungerford prefers to volunteer time at as a docent. “I’m surprised at the number of local people that stop in and admit that they never knew there was a museum was here,” Hungerford said. “This museum is just so nice. It’s clean, it’s cared for, it’s loved and it’s free, though donations are always accepted.” As she’s done hundreds of times, Hungerford greets a family as they enter the museum with a friendly, kind voice. She asks them to sign the register, explains a little about the museum and can’t help but ask if she can hold the baby and say hello.