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Eloise Brummer retires after 26 years working for Crook County, many of which were spent at the community's Bowman Museum

JASON CHANEY - Eloise Brummer pauses for a photo during a small retirement party at Bowman Museum. The party was supposed to be much larger and open to the public, but social distancing rules forced attendance to only include four guests.

A modest-sized rectangular table was sparsely surrounded by five plastic folding chairs, occupied by museum staff and one county commissioner.

A bottle of sparkling apple cider was served in small paper cups along with green frosted cupcakes. Save for some quiet conversation and reminiscing among colleagues, Bowman Museum's large community room, which can hold more than 100 people, was quiet and dimly lit.

From the outside, it looked closed.

The outbreak of COVID-19 has impacted many community events and among them was a retirement party for long-time county and museum employee Eloise Brummer. Before the pandemic arrived in the U.S. and effectively forced the closure of many facilities and ruled out large gathering, the plan was to hold a large, public party.

But Eloise didn't let it bother her, smiling and enjoying the much smaller and more intimate event that included Museum Director Sandy Cohen, Historian Steve Lent, Collection Manager Kelsey Perrigo and Eloise's husband, Jerry, who is currently a county commissioner.

"This is just fine," she said.

Eloise logged 26 years with Crook County in a variety of capacities. She started out in the clerk's office, where she was employed full time. Later, when budget cuts struck, she took a new job at the county library.

Around the same time her employment with the county began, she started volunteering at the museum.

"We have got a great connection," Eloise said of the museum, noting that she is a fourth-generation Crook County resident and Jerry is a fifth-generation local. "His great-granddad helped build this (museum) building. You just feel attached – and I just love the local history."

A couple years into her library job, Eloise decided to pursue employment at the museum, rather than just volunteering. Gordon Gillespie, who was curator at the time, hired her for what started out as a unique position.

"He didn't have a place to put me other than halfway up the back stairway," she laughed. "I had a World War II Japanese machine gun right beside me. I worked there for a year."

At the time, Lent was working at the front desk, a post she would eventually occupy and become a fixture. She said her job has entailed processing artifacts and serving on the collection board, which determines what donated items get displayed. But her colleagues said she served another, and perhaps more important purpose.

"She has been the face of the museum for people coming in – greeting and sharing a lot of information," Lent said.

Cohen agreed and stressed how important it was that she served that role.

"(Patrons) immediately felt welcome and got a connection to the history," he said. "Eloise and her family have just embodied that for many, many years."

The Brummers have not only served with the Crook County Historical Society, they have played a prominent role on the Pioneer Queen selection committee for the past 30 years.

Eloise said she will miss her colleagues the most, gesturing to the small group of people able to attend her quarantine-shrunken retirement party. And she will miss the work. But with her 72nd birthday just days a few days away, she felt ready to step away.

"It's time," she said.

But the small group around the table hopes that she will continue to visit the museum from time to time, even though she will no longer work there.

"She is going to be dearly missed," Lent said.

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