A “contagious enthusiasm for the study of history and boundless optimism for our ability to forge a brighter future together” are qualities the Johnson County Museum’s
new director brings to her new position.
Prairie Village resident Mary McMurray, a specialist in 20th-century U.S. history, will begin as the new director on April 6.
“My love of history drove me to pursue advanced degrees in the field,” she said. “My intense desire to make the world a better place drew me to work in museums. As I wrote in my cover letter for the position, ‘museums are magical.’ They inspire awe and spark curiosity. They educate and foster community. They provide a sense of understanding of ourselves and each other.”
Prior to coming to JCPRD, McMurray served as superintendent of historic sites and outdoor education for Jackson County, Mo. She is also a consultant for the Reagan Presidential Foundation & Institute. She previously worked for the Truman Library Institute as director of learning and engagement and, before that, as director of the library’s White House Decision Center. She has taught courses in the History Departments at the University of Kansas and University of Missouri-Kansas City, and served as program manager for Children and Youth in History, an online educational resource provided by the Center for History and New Media at George Mason University.
McMurray holds bachelor's and masters’ degrees in history from the University of Missouri - Columbia and University of Missouri - Kansas City, respectively, and a doctorate in history from the University of Kansas.
She noted that for her dissertation, she used army wife guidebooks and other sources to explore the development of army family policy from World War II through 1983.
“That means that I’ve read more military spouse guidebooks than probably anyone you’ve ever met,” she said. “If you ever need tips on how to pack your house for a move or the hierarchy of beverages served at an officers’ wives’ tea in the 1950s, just ask!”
McMurray and her husband, Sean Ewbank, are the parents of a two-year-old daughter, Mabel, whose favorite parts of the Johnson County Museum are KidScape and the ramp leading up to the All Electric House. Ewbank is a musician who sings and plays the banjo, mandolin, and guitar with bands The John Brown Boys and Boxcar Brethren, which play old-time folk and bluegrass music.
Prior to taking the director’s position, McMurray was very familiar with and a member of the Johnson County Museum.
“It is so rare to get the opportunity to join an incredible team doing mission-focused work dedicated to improving the lives of their fellow citizens, let alone one with a compelling strategic plan and strong government and non-profit partners,” she said. “To get that opportunity right here in my backyard. I couldn’t believe it. I am so lucky.”
Even while the museum is closed for the coronavirus, McMurray’s thoughts turn to documenting this time in history.
“Museums are trusted with crafting and sharing the stories that define us, that give us a sense of existence in time, that embolden us to march bravely into the future, and to fulfill our potential,” she said. "For museums like the Johnson County Museum, it means questions not only of how we continue to share our county’s history in this strange time so that we can make a better future together, it also means questions of how we should document, collect, and curate our present story for the future. It means creating engaging, educational, and, yes, fun experiences that provide our community opportunities to learn, to reflect, to engage, and to be inspired. It means giving the community reasons to come back again and again (and again), to share experiences here with friends, because the Johnson County Museum feels like a welcoming, loving home. ”