Having recently turned 11, Jadyn Petree is the youngest person to hold a lifetime free membership to the Rifle Heritage Center, and she earned it.
Jadyn, who counts history as one of her favorite subjects in school, presented volunteers at the heritage center, formerly know as the Rifle Creek Museum, with $1,136 that she raised parking cars during the week of the Garfield County Fair and Rodeo in August.
It was her second attempt at raising funds for the heritage center this summer after learning of financial hurdles — which have been a topic of discussion at City Hall in recent months — facing the center.
A lemonade stand organized by Jadyn and some friends earlier this summer only generated $4.
“They were happy and they were thankful,” Jadyn said in recalling the day she donated the money.
The reaction from heritage center volunteers was a bit more dramatic, said Betty Waldron, a Rifle Heritage Center board member.
“Absolutely astounding,” she said of Jadyn’s efforts. “When they told me what the amount was I almost fell to the floor.”
The center does receive larger charitable contributions from foundations and other organizations, but $1,136 is toward the higher end in terms of donations from a single person, according to Waldron. The fact that it came from somebody who was only 10 years old at the time of the actual fundraising is all the more amazing, she added.
Starbucks or trip to the museum?
It was mid-June when Jadyn and some friends went out for lunch. After eating some pizza, they asked Jadyn’s mother, Shawna Petree, if they could go to Starbucks. She said yes, but then they asked if they could go to the heritage center.
Shawna gave them an ultimatum: Starbucks or the museum.
They chose the heritage center.
“They all decided they’d rather go to the museum than go to Starbucks … and I was like that is something to be commended, for kids that age to be like ‘no we want to go to the museum and not go to Starbucks,’” Shawna said.
For Shawna, it was her first-ever visit to the center, located on the corner of East Avenue and Fourth Street in downtown Rifle.
Jadyn had already visited it several times for school field trips.
History is among her favorite subjects in school. While she cannot point to one particular era or specific subject as being her favorite, Jadyn enjoyed learning about local history in the third grade.
She was especially fond of the book “Rifle Shots” — which the heritage center refers to as “generally the first resource to be consulted for historical or genealogical information.”
“First we read it in social studies class then I got it for my birthday I liked it so much,” Jadyn said. “And I pretty much read all of it in two days.”
When Jadyn and crew arrived at the heritage center back in June, she learned the center was facing some financial difficulties.
Earlier that month, heritage center board members met with Rifle City Council to discuss a continued lease of the building, which is owned by the city. However, the conversation turned toward improvements needed in the building, which was built in 1952 and served at Rifle’s second City Hall.
There was the issue of a functional heating system, which the building currently lacks. That forces the museum to close for the winter. An estimate to replace the boiler came in around $57,000, board members told council in June. An estimate for plumbing repairs ranged from $1,250 and $4,150.
Council members, some of whom expressed concerns about triggering renovation requirements under the Americans with Disabilities Act and other worries regarding unseen costs, did not have much of an appetite for investing money into the building.
The heritage center board members did not leave the meeting feeling optimistic, said Waldron, whose husband, Cecil, attended the meeting with council. Such was the climate when Jadyn visited the center later that month.
She did not want the museum to cease to exist, and she started plotting possible fundraising efforts.
After the failed lemonade stand, Jadyn approached her grandparents, who own the empty lot across from the Garfield County Fairgrounds, and asked if she could park cars during the fair to raise money for the heritage center.
Her grandparents, who regularly let groups such as the local Boy Scout troop use the lot to raise money during fair week, said yes.
For hours at a time during days with large events, Jadyn was out in the parking lot handling the business side of things with help from a couple of friends. Mom and dad physically parked the cars, but Jadyn did all the talking and money handling.
“I was super proud and she was a trooper,” Shawna said of her daughter.
While Jadyn, who hopes to one day be a doctor some day, was determined, she admitted she never expected to raise as much money as she did.
Her sizable donation was not the only good bit of news for the heritage center in August. City officials were invited to tour the center several weeks ago, and several members of council were impressed enough to bring up the idea of exploring possible smaller improvements to the building during the budget process in October.
“I think the thing that was encouraging for me was I envisioned it would be so crowded in there that it wouldn’t make any sense anyway, but I didn’t find that at all,” Councilor Ed Green said at council’s Aug. 17 meeting.
The feeling among museum volunteers is trending more positive than it was in June.
“We feel like they at least see that what we have is of value, where as before we got the impression that they just thought we had a pile of junk over there,” Waldron said. “And now they realize we are doing our best to preserve and promote Rifle’s history.”