Bones of Contention

The battle for the soul of the Graves Museum isn't over yet, and Gypsy Graves herself is back in the trenches

For three years Graves worked 12 to 16 hours a day in the new building. She worked people half her age into the ground, recalls Cummings. "She would get to work in the morning before I got there. She would be there at ten at night when I left, and she would put you in the dirt along about three in the afternoon."

Despite Graves' boundless energy and the enthusiasm of the all-volunteer BCAS, the museum was simply getting too big. If the museum was to continue growing, it needed paid staff to tend to business and chase grants. "We felt we needed to make a change and bring in some professional-administrator types," says Rudy Pascucci, who was president of the BCAS at the time.

Gypsy Graves wants to return to the institution that has her name on it
Joshua Prezant
Gypsy Graves wants to return to the institution that has her name on it

So the group consulted its attorney, Karl Adler, who advised the members to incorporate the museum and subsume the BCAS into that corporation -- to make the BCAS an arm of the museum, which itself would become a nonprofit organization. Adler suggested creating a board of governors for the museum, distinct from the BCAS' board of directors. The museum's board would be in charge of business; the BCAS' board would handle science and exploration. "It would be a two-headed animal," Pascucci recalls.

The BCAS put the proposal to a vote at its annual meeting in December 1995; Pascucci remembers it passing overwhelmingly -- though BCAS members voiced concerns about revenue splits with the museum and ownership of artifacts. But they were in a hurry at that meeting, because the full membership might not get together again for another year. Adler's advice, Pascucci says, was to accept the arrangement as codified in a new set of bylaws and deal with the details later.

Members did just that. They regretted it later. "This is the danger of voting something on [the basis of] the attorney saying, "We'll fix it later, just do it now,'" Pascucci laments.

Doug Endsley, a former United Way executive, became the museum's first executive director. Endsley committed to and served just one year. His successor was Bob Kelley, a man with no background in archaeology or museums when he took the top job in early 1997. Kelley retired from the museum in November. Contacted by New Times during his last days on the job, Kelley said he was suffering from heart trouble and would not be available for an interview.

According to a résumé filed in compliance with grant requirements, Kelley is a licensed mental-health counselor and an adjunct professor of psychology and philosophy at Broward Community College. He has worked in Broward County government, at Nova Southeastern University as a therapist, and as a minister in churches in Florida and Kentucky.

Other key museum officials' résumés are similarly void of museum experience. Sharon McMorris, director of development, worked at Planned Parenthood before she took a job at Graves Museum. Her employment history includes stints as a nonprofit consultant and a grant writer for the City of Hollywood. Charles Zidar, the assistant director under Kelley and now the acting director, has a bachelor's degree in landscape architecture from Ohio State University. He is currently working on a museum studies degree from the University of Oklahoma and has been an active avocational archaeologist since the early 1990s.

Kelley, by all accounts, was an authoritarian manager who liked his staff deferential and his meetings on time. "We called him the bus driver," says Cummings. "He would say, "Now I am the bus driver, and everyone else is the passenger.'"

He staffed the museum's board of governors with business people, accountants, and marketers, then involved them increasingly in the day-to-day operation of the place. And he locked horns with Graves almost from day one. "He wanted Gypsy out of there," Pascucci says.

Friction between the two was inevitable. Kelley was a compulsive micromanager. Graves led by personality and instinct. And she thought Kelley and his cohorts were paying themselves too much and not putting enough into the museum. (In 1998 Kelley earned about $73,000 a year in salary and benefits, according to IRS forms, while McMorris made almost $70,000. Zidar's salary isn't listed, but he told New Times he now makes about $55,000 as acting director. Graves never drew a salary.)

Graves' optimism and enthusiasm were steadily replaced with a sense that the museum's business was business, says Michael Vaden, a world-class taxidermist who worked there in the early days. "Everything we had hoped [for] and dreamed of just got shot down the toilet," he sighs.

Vaden, who now lives in Atlanta, says the new management made stupid mistakes, such as refusing an invitation from a very wealthy, philanthropy-minded South African family to come to their reserve and harvest animals for display in the museum. "They invited us to come collect in Africa," he says. "It got shot down for the views of two or three people [on the new board of governors] who didn't agree [with] the idea of harvesting animals for museums."

The family, says Vaden, took the refusal as a snub and instead befriended the British Museum -- to which they later donated $3.5 million.

Ed Petuch recalls the time the museum had a chance to purchase 9000 acres of prime dinosaur-hunting ground in Wyoming with only a $30,000 down payment, but Kelley couldn't put the deal together. "Bob came out there and said, "Yes, yes, I want this.' He got the poor owner all excited, then dragged the thing on for two years. They never did buy it."

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