Leah Davis Witherow is the archivist and curator of history at the Colorado Springs Pioneers Museum, and she’ll tell you she has the best job in the world.
“I went to 12 or 13 schools before graduating from high school — we were a military family, lived all over the world. We were moving about every 14 months on average,” she said. “I am so proud to have set down roots in this community. This has become my hometown and I’m really proud to be able to give something back to it by preserving and sharing its history.”
Davis Witherow has been with the Pioneers Museum for 24 years, starting as a graduate student intern while she was earning her master’s at UCCS and progressing through the ranks of assistant archivist, archivist and finally curator of history.
Nominator Joyce Morgan said Davis Witherow has helped transform the museum’s exhibits and expand the visitation, outreach and relevance of the museum significantly over the past 10 years.
“I’m really proud of the work the museum has done over the past decade to fundamentally shift who we are as an institution and be much more community-oriented and to open up our doors and think outside the box,” Davis Witherow said. “I’m proud of the work that we’ve done to engage our community in new exhibits, telling new stories.
“Every story matters,” she added. “The stories of everyone in Colorado Springs matter — because for a museum to really be relevant, to have meaning for its community, it needs to be a mirror, so that no matter who comes in the front doors of this museum they see a bit of their story reflected. That means we need to try to tell as many stories as possible. … And they never get boring.”
Davis Witherow has curated more than three dozen exhibits that tell important and unique stories about the Pikes Peak region and its people, including the award-winning “The Story of Us: The Pikes Peak Region from A-Z,” for which she was also project manager.
“The Story of Us” is a groundbreaking exhibit and online storytelling platform, the result of a five-year collaboration between the Pioneers Museum, Dr. John Harner, professor of geography and environmental studies at UCCS, and Kevin Knapp, local entrepreneur and founder of Tierra Plan, a GIS software development company.
Davis Witherow has also taught courses in U.S. history at UCCS for the past 18 years, and has mentored dozens of student interns, many of whom have gone on to become teachers or museum professionals themselves.
She says her work at the museum and teaching at UCCS are “very much connected. …
“For me, it’s a privilege to get to tell history here at the museum and also get to share my love of history with students and get them excited about it. The past isn’t ever really the past — we’re living with it today. And every choice, every decision we make today as a community, becomes our history.”
Creating and sharing a sense of history and community specific to the Springs is a passion for Davis Witherow, who moved here in a hurry after her first visit.
“I fell in love with the scenery first and the history second and the people third,” she recalls. “I came here on vacation, I went to Garden of the Gods and said, ‘Why do I not live here? This is amazing.’ I went back to Los Angeles where I was living, and made plans to move here.”
There’s a special something about Colorado Springs, Davis Witherow says, “that you can move here from somewhere else and there’s a level of acceptance, there’s an integration here where you can become really involved quickly and deeply in a way that still sort of surprises me 26 years later.”
Davis Witherow has a long history of community involvement, including working with the Historic Preservation Alliance, Pikes Peak Library District Symposium, Fountain Creek Nature Center History Committee and League of Women Voters — and she is passionate about mentoring.
“I’ve always been really fortunate to work with fantastic people who inspired me, and I try to do the same for the people who work with me,” she said. “I try to lead by example, through energy and getting people excited about projects, and building on their strengths. We have a small team here but — to a person — everyone that works here loves what they do. It’s not really hard to get people excited.”
— Helen Robinson