By Marion Vendituoli
The Patagonia Regional Times would like to acknowledge German Quiroga as our 2019 Community Contributor for his many years of volunteer service to the community.
This corner of Santa Cruz County is blessed with a disproportionate number of people who make a difference in the quality of all our lives, people who volunteer at more than twenty local nonprofits, an astounding number given our small rural population. So, it is not easy to single out one person to honor each year. This year, however, the vote was unanimous to name German Quiroga our 2019 PRT Community Contributor.
German Quiroga has dedicated himself to the preservation of the history of Patagonia and eastern Santa Cruz County. Although best known for his work to establish the Patagonia Museum, his first efforts focused on restoring the Lochiel Schoolhouse, which was built in 1911. The one room school in the San Rafael Valley, which his mother had attended, had closed in 1971. In 1987 the school board tried to sell the building, along with the adjoining teacher’s quarters, but there was no one interested in buying the property at that time, and the property fell into disarray. Since that time, Quiroga and his crew of volunteers, who meet at the school every month, have replaced 96 window panes, installed three new doors, patched and painted the exterior stucco, patched and painted the interior plaster, installed a new wooden floor, painted the bathrooms and utility room, installed gutters and a cistern, added a photovoltaic system to power the plumbing, and have maintained the grounds.
Quiroga credits his friend Ralph Schmitt for his involvement in the Lochiel project which then led to the development the Patagonia Museum. “If I hadn’t partnered with Ralph, the museum wouldn’t have happened,” Quiroga said. Schmitt alerted Quiroga to the first open meeting held by the school district in January 2009 to discuss the future of the Lochiel Schoolhouse.
Katie Goodwin had founded the Patagonia Museum in 2004, but after four years the assets of the nonprofit were liquidated and donated to the Empire Ranch. Quiroga reactivated the nonprofit with the mission to preserve and collect the history of Santa Cruz County. For five years it was a “museum in search of a home,” he said. It operated as a virtual museum which could only be visited through the Patagonia Library website. It also put up exhibits in the back room of the Artists Cooperative in Patagonia.
In 2015, the Patagonia School Board reached out to Quiroga to see if the Museum would be interested in space at Old Main, the historic Patagonia schoolhouse that had seen its last class graduate in May 2014. Quiroga believes that he was approached “based on the stewardship of the Lochiel property.” What had been a liability was now an asset, he feels, due to the improvements that Quiroga and his volunteers had done in Lochiel. “Hopefully, we’ve done that with the [Patagonia] School, too,” he said.
The Museum takes up the first floor of the Patagonia School. At present, Linda and Tom Shore are the curators and Leslie Schupp works on the displays. The museum also houses the Santa Cruz County Ranching collection, overseen by the Santa Cruz Cowbelles, that previously had been located in Nogales. The Museum is supported by more than 100 active members, donations and twice-yearly bus tours to northern Mexico. There are quarterly meetings featuring guest speakers.
Quiroga, who is an avid bike rider, first became involved in local volunteering when he joined the Mtn. Empire Trail Assn in 2008, helping to develop the train track loop outside of Patagonia. “That’s when I got my feet wet with volunteering,” he said. “I didn’t have a clue that I’d become so busy.”
He and his wife Beatrice are active in the Quaker Church in Tucson, working with the Mitigation Action Committee, which promotes immigrant justice. Quiroga is also involved with the Immigrant Bond Program, which provides funds to bond out detainees at the Eloy Detention Center, a private prison that holds people without documentation.
Although Quiroga now lives in Tucson, his Patagonia roots are deep. He spent the first six years of his life in town, where both his grandmothers lived. In 1956, when the mines closed, his family moved to Tucson, but returned every other weekend to visit family and deliver groceries to his grandparents. The couple own a house on Harshaw Rd. that had belonged to his parents and are considering moving back to the area.