SUSAN FALCK, PH.D.
Susan Falck joined Rancho Camulos Museum as director in July, 2012. She completed her doctorate at University of California, Santa Barbara in early 2012, with a dissertation entitled Black and White Memory Making in Postwar Natchez, Mississippi, 1865-1935. Much of her research focused on the growth of heritage tourism and antebellum house museums in Mississippi, and she brings that passion and interest for public history and museum work to her position at Rancho Camulos. Susan sees tremendous potential at Rancho Camulos as a unique destination in Ventura County’s “Heritage Valley,” and is working to develop the site as a magnet for those interested in discovering Southern California history.
Along with the museum’s talented director, Rancho Camulos has a very dedicated docent council. Many of the site improvement projects are thanks to the time, skill and generous spirit of our docents, who include gardeners, carpenters, painters, florists and caterers, among others. Within the corps of 32 volunteers, there are those who use their administrative skills to help market the museum and generate media coverage, organize school tours and special events, manage the gift shop and take care of admissions. Many also participate in living history reenactments, and several help with archiving the museum’s rich collection of documents and artifacts. Without the volunteers, preserving Rancho Camulos and making the historic property accessible to the public would be impossible. Below are profiles of a few members of the docent council.
To learn more about joining the docent council and volunteer opportunities at Rancho Camulos Museum, please fill out our DOCENT INQUIRY FORM.
You might say Dorothea Phelan is a woman who wears many hats, or for that matter, many wigs, bonnets, petticoats, shawls, and other costume pieces that bring history to life for her audiences. The Ojai resident, who excels and delights in playing a variety of female characters from Ventura County’s storied past, became an official RCM docent in 2012. The spry octogenarian has played the role of Senora Ysabel del Valle for many years at RCM special events and other county functions. In preparing to play Senora del Valle, Dorothea “devoured” Wallace Smith’s This Land Was Ours as well as letters written by the mistress of Rancho Camulos. “Sources like these really helped me get into the skin of this woman.” Dorothea found herself particularly drawn to the Senora because she was a “dignified and very private woman” who played a key role in maintaining the rancho [read more=”Read more” less=”Read less”] and her family for many years after her husband died. A retired teacher of emotionally disturbed children, Dorothea became active in volunteer work after the death of her second husband in 1989. Volunteering appealed to her as a way to “give back since we’re not here to just serve ourselves.” An ardent history lover, she joined the Ventura County Museum as a docent, and found great satisfaction in using her teaching skills in a museum setting. Dorothea finds herself grateful when she reflects on her own past. “I have been so fortunate in the past 20 years to have met so many wonderful and talented women and men.” She is particularly pleased that she can devote more time to RCM. Like so many who come to Rancho Camulos, Dorothea finds “a deep sense of peace” walking the museum grounds. “I love the fact that this place is nearly 170 years old and I have a deep respect for the people who lived here. They were real people with joys and sorrows not so very different from our own.” [/read]
SUE DISESSO GORDON
Born and raised in the San Fernando Valley Sue Gordon had several careers, including real estate, working nurse for 15 years, and as a Hollywood Animal Trainers for 20+ years. Around 2004, her friend Kathy Marsden, another Docent at Rancho Camulos, invited her to come and see the place and that’s all it took, she fell in love with it. Enchanted with the old buildings, the history and the beauty and tranquility of Rancho Camulos, Sue became a Docent immediately! Sue specializes in helping to organize entertainment for special events at the museum, and along with her partner, Maria Christopher, they market and promote the events through various media outlets.
DIANE DUARTE BABKO
Diane Babko was born and raised in Burbank, California. After attending school at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo and UCSB and living in San Diego for two years, she and her husband moved to Santa Clarita. They have lived here since 1969. Diane taught English as a Second Language to adults and later to high school students at Hart High School. Since retiring in 2009, she been volunteering at Newhall Elementary School helping primary students with reading. Through her church, she is also involved with outreach to the homeless. Diane became interested in being a docent at RCM when a friend invited her to a Ramona Days festival in 2008. Her great-grandmother, Mary Aceves Ruiz Rivera, had worked at Rancho Camulos with her father when she was sixteen years old, and Diane had heard stories as a child but never visited RCM until 2008. [read more=”Read more” less=”Read less”] On seeing this beautiful place and talking to other docents, Diane knew this Camulos be a fun place to volunteer. After her retirement in 2009, she joined the docent council, meeting a new group of friends who are all committed to preserving the history of Rancho Camulos for future generations Diane enjoys music (her son is a musician and my husband is a retired band director), reading, photography, cardmaking, travel, spending time with family and friends. [/read]
Raised in Granada Hills and now living in Valencia, Karen Nelson has been a docent since 2012. After wandering in to see the Rancho one day, she fell in love with the charm and history of this special place. Karen helps with tours on the weekends and special events. She is a full time nurse with Providence Trinity Care Hospice. Her favorite part of volunteering is wearing her festive red skirt and embroidered boots!
Diana Cox is one of the founding members of the docent council dating back to when the museum first opened to the public in 2001. She lives in Westlake Village, but her heart and roots are in the Santa Clara river valley where her ancestors were original settlers. Born in Fillmore, as were most of her friends and relatives, it is where she chooses to spend her volunteer hours. Enjoying the friendships she has made with the talented docents and staff, and working on various projects and special events, Diana finds her involvement with the docent council very rewarding. Travel, family, reading and babysitting are a few of her hobbies, but food service seems to be her primary focus at the museum, and reflects the pleasure Diana takes in meal planning, cooking and most of the home arts. Rancho Camulos has a history of hospitality and Diana is grateful for the opportunity to help keep the tradition alive.
John Zermeño was born in Jalisco, Mexico. At the age of 12 he moved with his family to Fillmore. Upon completing High School, he joined the service and after his discharge he attended and graduated from Chico State College. John was a teacher for 37 years with the Fillmore Unified School District. After retirement he welcomed the opportunity to join his wife in helping give tours at Rancho Camulos Museum. John enjoys reading about the history of California and telling school children about life on the old ranchos. John is also an avid gardener and spends time caring for the gardens at Camulos.
Carmen Zermeño was born and raised in Jalisco, Mexico. After marrying John Zermeño, she moved to Chico, California where her husband was pursuing his Master’s Degree in Spanish. His first teaching job took them to Wheatland, California where they lived for four years. Carmen, John and their children later moved to Fillmore in 1974. After raising their five children, Carmen studied to become a pre-school teacher. One day she and her husband visited Rancho Camulos Museum and fell in love with the place. It reminded Carmen of her grandparents’ home in Mexico! Bursting with enthusiasm for the museum, Carmen joined the the docent council and started giving tours 12 years ago, while still working as a pre-school teacher, and has been actively involved ever since.
Kristin Contreras received her M.A. in History from Cal State Northridge in 2014, specializing in Spanish and American colonial history. Seeking experience in educational programming and archives, Kristin worked as an archives intern for the Natural History Museum. Currently, she works as an administrative assistant for AYES (a local non-profit), and partners with Citlali Sosa Riddell to produce a history-related podcast called History In Pop Culture. As a member of the docent council at Rancho Camulos, she assists with exhibit development and installation, collection management and archival organization, in addition to leading tours for the general public.