Casa San Ysidro in the Village of Corrales is in need of volunteers to continue the crucial work of explaining its historical significance.
The large adobe structure, at 973 Old Church Road, across the street from the historic Old San Ysidro Church, was originally built and pieced together in 1875 by the Gutiérrez family, according to Casa San Ysidro Site Manager Emily Stovel.
Stovel, who has worked in different facets at San Ysidro for over two years, said that San Ysidro is a long-term project that was taken over by Dr. Ward Alan Minge and his wife in the early 1950s.
“When the property was bought by Dr. Minge and his wife in the early ’50s, they started a process of building on to the original historic adobe house,” Stovel said. “Dr. Minge was a historian who tried to bring as much of the historic traditions of New Mexico he could back to life in this structure.”
Many of the spaces that Minge added to the house were built with old materials from other southwestern structures that were being torn down from around the state, she said.
“They really wanted to experience the authenticity of living with kiva stoves to cook on and to sit on stools instead of a chair,” Stovel said. “This space is actually more intense than a traditional 19th-century house, because of each piece of his (Minge’s) remarkable collection of objects.”
Because of the unique history of the house and its many artifacts, Stovel says the need for docents and docent training for the facility is crucial.
A commitment to New Mexico history and a desire to share that commitment and knowledge of said history is the main qualification Stovel is looking for in a docent, she said.
“The docents selected are given resources through the museum based on their previous knowledge and interests,” Stovel said.
Many people may find their first impression of a museum very overwhelming, she said, so a docent’s job is to guide visitors through different areas and draw their attention to specific objects in an effort to narrow the scope of the experience for them.
“The docents enrich your relationship with the space by helping you move into the mindset of certain eras of objects that may have been overlooked or not understood,” Stovel said.
San Ysidro trains docents regularly throughout the year, which gives many interested in volunteering an opportunity to learn and inform visitors that frequent the site.
Amber Murray, museum tour coordinator for San Ysidro, said docents usually donate an hour to 90 minutes of their time once a week.
“There are two categories of tours, one for the public and the other for schools,” Murray said.
A typical public tour will last for about an hour, she said, and the school tours will usually be an entire class of students guided through the museum twice a day for one hour by a docent.
Murray’s background is in archaeology, she said, and Casa San Ysidro was on a list of jobs she found when attending the University of New Mexico that included interacting with the public.
“I was looking at a change in careers that focused more on the public because before I was just writing technical reports and I didn’t interact with people,” Murray said. “I like that here we interact with people every day and there’s an impact, that people are getting excited about history and New Mexican culture.”
Murray said she is in awe of San Ysidro because of how it embodies so much of the New Mexican spirit by showcasing artifacts from so many different cultures.
“It really shows what people in New Mexico have accomplished in their time here and their creativity and their spirit and I just think it’s really beautiful,” Murray said.
Rio Rancho resident Lois Mentze said she has been a docent at Casa San Ysidro for six years and loves being able to help spread the knowledge she has gained from working there to a young audience.
“I loved it from day one and still do,” Mentze said. “It just kind of gives you a feeling of history when you first look at it.”
Mentze said she has done well over 50 bus tours for school children who are getting their first experience of New Mexico history.
“As soon as the children see the plaza, they are amazed and you can see it in their eyes,” Mentze said.
Giving an explanation of the artifacts and the different historical aspects of the casa to a younger generation is the reason why Mentze returns year after year, she said.
“You are always learning something new about the place,” Mentze said. “Every time I go in there they have something different or you learn something new.”