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Of Character: Ron Skinner enjoys being a docent at National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum

Ron Skinner
Ron Skinner

The American West is vast in its heritage, people and stories.

Ron Skinner was asked to define what he enjoys the most about serving as a docent at the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum.

That is vast, as well.

Skinner is great about answering questions, but he can’t pick a favorite aspect of his involvement at the museum, where he has served for eight years.

“That is a very difficult question to answer,” said Skinner, 67, of Choctaw. “It is like asking a youngster in a huge chocolate factory what kind of chocolate candy do they like. I have yet to find anything that I haven’t enjoyed, for it all boils down to this: I like meeting people, I like sharing with them the Western way of life.

“I enjoy speaking with and listening to their stories about their life in their counties. If I had to try and pick one particular guest or a group visit that stands out above the others, I don’t believe that I could.”

Primary responsibility

Like all of the docents, Skinner’s primary responsibility is to ensure that museum guests are having an enjoyable visit. He has fun and he’s determined to share the enjoyment with visitors to the museum, individuals at various locations in the community and fellow docents.

Skinner leads the adults’ and children’s tours. He is the adult tour guide chairman and with that has the responsibility of organizing guides for the adult tours. Skinner also supports the education director’s projects as well as the outreach coordinator’s programs. Over time, he’s helped with outreach events including having visited the Dale Rogers Training Center in Oklahoma City, the J.D. McCarty Center in Norman and various metro schools.

“It is there that I have made many new friends as I show them how to hold a rope so they can cast it over a plastic steer head,” he said. “I show them how to twirl a rope like Will Rogers or I show them how to make a rope using a rope-twisting tool made in the 1890s.”

Besides what he does for visitors to the museum and those he meets through community events, Skinner has written a National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum Adult Tour Guide Handbook and the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum Docent Handbook, and he has developed and teaches the adult tour guide class.

Skinner was born in Guthrie, his family later moved to Midwest City and he has lived in Choctaw in recent years.

He visited the museum occasionally as a child on special family outings. As an adult he made more trips to the museum on Persimmon Hill.

Skinner was asked what kept drawing him back. Again, he couldn’t narrow it to one aspect.

It was the beautiful paintings, the statues, the museum’s simulated old town called “Prosperity Junction” and the opportunity to attend events such as the Prix de West and the Chuck Wagon Festival with his family.

“It is as much fun for me today to visit and to take family and friends to the museum as it was in my younger days,” he said.

Family is a key to this passion.

“My family has been farmers and cattlemen for generations,” he said. “They grew crops, as well as growing alfalfa and bailing prairie hay for the cattle.

Student of the West

“Also, most of my life I have been a student of Western history and of some of the artists whose paintings are exhibited at the museum, so I have a good understanding of the Western heritage and culture that the museum represents. My background allows me to represent the Western way of life.”

Skinner’s gratification of being a docent starts with that “warm feeling of doing something nice.”

But again, it’s more than one thing. The gratification of serving as a docent takes on many forms for Skinner.

“It comes to me when after a tour I am told by the touring group that they have learned something new about our Western heritage,” Skinner said. “It comes when they tell me that I brought history to life, and through the many other rewarding comments.

“It comes especially in their handshakes and their ‘thank you’ for providing them a great tour.”

Bryan Painter

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