“He came out of the blue.”
That's how Steve Schreiber, president of the Bingham-Waggoner Historical Society, recalls his fortuitous encounter with an inquisitive visitor who recently entered the Carriage House of the stately Independence mansion, where guests gather before beginning their tour of the historic 1852 home.
But the visitor, Ron McCarty, wasn't there to tour the home of George Caleb Bingham, Missouri artist, painter and statesman. To Steve's surprise, the stranger inquired about the availability of volunteer positions at the Bingham-Waggoner Estate, believing he might be a “pretty good docent.”
Says Steve: “I sent him up to our site coordinator, Shireen McLaughlin, for a brief interview, and it wasn't until 20 minutes later that I got word his credentials were simply amazing. He had all the qualifications that almost perfectly matched the needs of the estate. … It was amazing.”
In a recent interview in the Carriage House, the 1973 graduate of Van Horn High School recalls growing up in Kansas City and Independence, moving to Sarasota, Florida, in 1980 and working as the curator at the world famous Ca' d'Zan, a 56-room mansion built by John and Mable Ringling.
“I was happy they needed me,” says Ron, who becomes director of public relations in January on the Historical Society board.
“I wasn't surprised because my fit is perfect for the job,” he says, recalling that in Sarasota he was in charge of all historic homes tours for the community for 10 years and dealt with many organizations. “So I would imagine I could fit into any of these things. The estate is a very special place, and I really thought it would be a nice place to offer my services.”
Ron has much to offer as a board member.
“My forte is public relations and museum-related things, so I can help with collections' information and inventories and promoting tourism in Florida. All these type of things is what I dealt with for 38 years, so they can certainly use me in that capacity.”
But that's not all.
“In addition to all these abilities, Ron has worked with construction, in building and maintaining and presentation,” Steve notes. “His bag of tools are immense. … The thing we probably need most is public awareness, and Ron brings all that to the table.”
“I would like to connect to some TV programs. I have done a lot of TV and a lot of movies at the location I retired from. So, I would like to have awareness to national news,” he explains. “The estate is a national treasure that Bingham owned and is becoming more interesting to the American public. So, this is the perfect tablet to promote this mansion. So, I think it is one of the major things I want to promote through magazines, books and architectural publications, because the property is beautiful. I love its architecture and it really hasn't been promoted. Independence has its own beauty.”
But there's more. Ron would like to see lectures presented at the estate about the famous Missouri artist who lived there, connecting all his history with other aspects of Kansas City.
“So, (the lectures) will be bringing groups that don't normally come to Independence to your sites. And, to me, that will be a wonderful aspect of what I can hopefully do.”
Upon retiring after 38 years from the Ringling Museum, Ron McCarty could have stayed in Florida. But he selected Independence so he could be near his sister, who lives there.
“It's very important to me to be with her,” he says, “I am a very family-oriented person.”
As for Independence, “It's an amazing place,” Ron says. “There is no doubt about that. I remember as a kid, my favorite cousin and I would go past the Waggoner house to the Square and talk about how spectacular it was. Even when it was in private hands, it was always one of the treasures in Independence.”
Ron, who is “extra excited” about returning home, says his major focus as a board member is sharing his knowledge and helping the estate in whatever it does.
“That's the focus. The sky is the limit.”
Retired community news reporter Frank Haight Jr. writes this column for The Examiner. You can leave a message for him at 816-350-6363.