HISTORICAL CHANGES: La Jolla society welcomes new archivist

Michael Mishler labeled it a “mystery orb thing,” but really, it was a baton that the archivist/curator passed to his successor on March 1, his final day employed by the La Jolla Historical Society (LJHS).

“Someone sent this to me,” Mishler told Dana Hicks as he placed the painted wooden ball in her hands. “I don’t know what it is, so I just keep it on my desk.”

That’s right, folks. The beloved gatekeeper of the LJHS archives for 10 years is now history himself. Mishler said he retired to see the world with his wife, Cindy.

“She retired from Scripps Institution of Oceanography three years ago and has been traveling since with friends — and with me when I could get the time off,” he said.

Next month, the Mishlers plan their first cross-country drive. Then, they’ll spend six months in Europe. After that, Mishler said, they’ll head to “any place that sounds fun.”

Mishler’s replacement has already started at the LJHS with the title deputy director and collections manager and some big shoes to fill.

“Mike did such a terrific job organizing and managing the archive, he will be very much missed,” said LJHS executive director Heath Fox. “But there is no one better qualified to come on board than Dana Hicks. She is such an experienced museum professional and accomplished historian, I feel we are extremely fortunate to have her join the team.”

Hicks most recently served as curator of the Gilb Museum of Arcadia Heritage. Before that, she was the archivist of the Fred Strasburg Collection at the Palmdale City Library, and the collections manager of the City of Lancaster Museum.

“Every time you move to another job, you have to learn the history of that place from scratch, but that’s what I do,” Hicks said while strolling the neatly manicured grounds of LJHS, which is housed partially in historically designated Wisteria Cottage.

“And I’m home now,” Hicks added. “This is my home. My heart is here.”

Hicks grew up in Allied Gardens and remembers Mission Valley when it was all cow pasture.

“San Diego was a much smaller, quieter place, but I still love it just as much now,” she said. “I like the way it’s grown up. It’s not like Los Angeles. People are more in tune with the land and with health, nature and the arts.”

Hicks holds a BA in history and anthropology from UCLA, and MA and PhD degrees in history from UC Riverside. Even more impressive than her degrees, however, is the story of how she earned them.

“I didn’t start working on my career until later in life,” said Hicks, who attended college for the first time in 1993. “I had my family first. Once they got their thing going, I went back to school and started getting my thing going.”

Hicks said she thought her focus would be literature, but history and anthropology hooked her instead.

“I love finding someone you never knew was alive — well, who’s that? — and you start to pull the history out of that person,” Hicks said.

And that’s exactly what Mishler said he will miss most about the job. His final passion project at LJHS was uncovering every detail he could about the life of Hazel Keyes, a mysterious “lady aeronaut” who parachuted out of hot-air balloons with her pet monkey in the 1890s — in La Jolla and elsewhere along the coast. He said that a book was just begging to be written about her.

“She would have these horrendous accidents where the chute wouldn’t open, but then she would recover and do it again,” Mishler said. “And the newspapers would always report the same thing — that the monkey was unharmed.”

Mishler predicted a learning curve of about a year before Hicks gets up to full La Jolla speed.

“And I look forward to it,” Hicks said, adding that she has already begun by delving into the extensive LJHS archives of old photos, and the books about La Jolla authored by LJHS historian Carol Olten.

“I just look forward to everything,” she said.

— La Jolla HIstorical Society’s Office & Research Center is open 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday-Friday at 7846 Eads Ave. (858) 459-5335. lajollahistory.org

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