Kimberly Johnson: Heading the San Bernardino Museum Association as Executive Director entails a lot of leadership know-how. You're over-looking the entire operation for the most part. Can you explain a bit of your decorated schooling experience and how that's aided in your position?
Deborah Okogba: After graduating from the University of La Verne with a Bachelor’s degree in Management/Organizational Behavior, I shopped around for an MBA program – because that was the original plan. Ultimately, I was captivated by the establishment of a new program at my alma mater because it included socio-psychological considerations – Leadership and Management (MSLM). The program provided an excellent baseline for practical experience, refined my leadership aptitude, and cultivated my respect for the often-underestimated science of management.
KJ: Before ever linking up with the Museum Association, you were involved in other non-profit work. Can you recap some of those experiences aiding other organizations?
DO: I enjoy hands-on service involving people the most. Adopting an elder facility or mentoring a youth organization (or even just one or two kids) is incredibly rewarding work. I was amazed to discover once that, even though she had living children and other family, I was the only visitor one convalescent home resident ever received. One never knows how deeply small gestures may impact someone’s existence.
KJ: You were named as a "Woman of Distinction" by the California State Assembly. That gives you some definite clout. How do you think one can work their way up to being a "woman of distinction?"
DO: The tag phrase associated with Women of Distinction is “Women who make a difference in their communities.” Being honored among an impressive group of philanthropic women was a lovely surprise. I daresay, however, that one does not “work” towards that. Such is simply something that must be done. There are numerous ways to “make a difference” in this world, the majority of which go unsung. Contributing however one may to any effort is a privilege… one could very easily and unexpectedly be on the side in need.
KJ: Your unique experiences as a child growing up in a military family made way for a very colorful and eclectic upbringing; you spent years in Italy and attended high school in Japan. Can you elaborate on your travels and the unique exposure to so many varying dialects, personalities, cultural norms and overall experiences?
DO: After age four, I was basically raised abroad. I never saw that or my experiences as being particularly unique until well into my adult years. I started school in Okinawa. The memories of typhoons and loss of power for two or more days in still vivid.
While in Italy, I lived in the Po River Valley in a rural town called Ghedi. I attended school two hours away, in Verona. My best buddy Claudia lived down the road and her family ran a coffee factory, which was in the lower ground level of their estate. She and I used to sit in the factory and inhale the rich aroma of those beans, often accompanied by her two massive great dane guard dogs (one of which was called “Emir”). On the weekends, my family took leisurely drives to scenic Lombardian regions, or Milan or Venice or all the way to Switzerland – which was only two hours away. That was just…life. I recall summers when the massive field of brilliant red poppies across the road would bloom. (Slightly amusing now.)
While in high school in Tokyo, I was selected to serve as a native instructor for a private English elementary school beginning at age 15. I did this for two years at a wide range of locations; some quite remote. The majority of the children had never met an American, let alone one of African descent. Crime on the streets was unheard of and my mother never worried if I was traveling the trains and returning home late-evening. I must say that my upbringing provided abundant references (and stories!) and insight about which I am truly grateful. To this day, international travel is one of my greatest passions.
KJ: Overseeing the continuous support of the Museum Association would seem like a creative job in and of itself. There is so much emphasis currently on the importance of honing creativity as a skill, how do you keep your own creativity flowing in relation to the job and simply staying inspired?
DO: Creativity quite often has an academic facet – thus, continual learning is a definite component. People and their passions are also an inspiration. The Museum Association is governed by a Board of distinguished members who are seriously and actively involved in support. I marvel at, and am proud of, how much they sincerely care.
KJ: What are some of the upcoming activities, events or announcements we can look forward to in relation to the San Bernardino County Museum and the Museum Association?
DO: There is always something to look forward to at the San Bernardino County Museum!
For the most comprehensive glimpse, www.sbcounty.gov/museum is a great place to start.
The Museum’s scope of influence extends well beyond the Inland Area. Because we are not a “look, don’t touch” facility – schools from as far north as Kern county and through the rest of California’s borders travel to Redlands to experience the opportunities and edification provided.
Jolene Redvale, Curator of Education, coordinates school and family programs that give Museum visitors opportunities to create their own sense of place here in the Inland Empire. Volunteers in period dress can regularly be seen introducing activities and historical information to enthrall school groups. I love the days that the bus bays are full and children are wide-eyed indoors and out on the Museum campus. The Exploration Station is a particularly favorite site, full of live and display creatures. The giant Australian leaf insects are my favorite.
Curator of History Michele Nielsen oversees six historic sites throughout the county, including the Asistencia in Redlands and the John Rains House in Rancho Cucamonga. Each spring, these wonderful mini-sites receive many visitors and school groups. The Crossroads in History Gallery at the main museum features transportation vehicles that each carry a story of our county’s past. Current projects include the Edison International grant “Shed Some Light on It!” and the project to create reader rails for each of the vehicles in the gallery. Michele is always interested in sharing the stories and vision for the gallery and sites with anyone who wants to know more about our region’s history.
The Museum Association membership desk can be reached at (909)798-8625. For a surprisingly low annual membership fee, newsletter, discounts, and other benefits can be obtained. There are travel excursions, events, and exhibits not to be missed – for which membership brings a discount or covers completely.
The Museum Association is a 501(c)3 non-profit organization. Among other assets, we manage grant and investment funds, bequests, and endowments.
Deborah Okogba, Executive Director San Bernardino County Museum Association
2024 Orange Tree Lane
Redlands, CA 92374