Steve Nowak, Director of Watkins Museum, is a story teller with thirty years of experience in museum work. Nowak has a background in art, history and material culture and is a Washington University, St. Louis graduate. Nowak took the job in 2011 and was asked to do a major upgrade of the collection. The Watkins is a 126 year old bank building that was built to be a showplace. However, in the decade prior to Nowak’s arrival the collection had grown static. Nowak began to fundraise and set out to tell the story of the community in a fresh and appealing manner. He began to remodel and update the collection one floor at a time. The Watkins won a prestigious Museums for America Grant which greatly assisted the remodel work.
The community’s story is one of Border War legacy, city growth, and the unique personalities that shaped it. The second floor exhibits are dedicated to the struggles for equality. The third floor focusses on different themes in Douglas County life, including business, leisure, activism, sports and more. Efforts have been made to reflect and honor all of the groups that are a part of the history of the area. The remodeled museum includes interactive displays, temporary exhibits that change every three to six months, a family research room and increased archive storage. Nowak emphasizes the importance of collaboration, especially with educators. Admission to the museum is free.