President and Volunteer Director
Lemhi County Historical Society and Museum
“Hope Benedict could live and work anywhere she wants to,” Gina Knudson wrote about her friend and mentor, in a letter of recommendation. “This community was immeasurably enriched when she chose to return home.”
For Benedict, it was the obvious choice. She recalls traveling throughout Lemhi County with her parents. History came alive as her father told stories.
“Everywhere we went he told me stories about this ranch, that mine, and the people who started it, what happened to it,” said Benedict. “Every place I look, it just feels like my family. It’s my home.”
Benedict has lived throughout Idaho, and brie y in Oregon, studying and teaching Idaho and American West history, though her first collegiate love was English literature. Benedict realized what fascinated her most was the history that made those stories possible.
Becoming the president and volunteer director of the Lemhi County Historical Society and Museum was a less obvious choice. She had no experience leading a museum. But exhibits evolved.
“We have been often collectors of old things, without necessarily any story of why those old things are important,” Benedict said. “Rather than having 14 gold pans out, we … explain how they were used … or how extractive industry helps define a culture.”
And, the museum is growing. In just 18 months, Benedict and the historical society raised nearly $155,000 to purchase a building to house an interactive exhibit about the Salmon River, which is integral to many industries and people.
“We just did an interactive lm on a mining town that is disappearing board by board,” Benedict said. “People could come in and put on the goggles, have sound, (and) then they were actually in the mining town participating in the story.”
Outside the museum, Benedict helps plan and moderate local panel discussions, such as a recent one about the past, present and future of the river’s salmon and steelhead populations.
Panelists included a Boise State University professor, a member of the Shoshone-Bannock tribes, a conservation advocate, someone from the outfitting and guide industry and a representative from Bonneville Power.
“How she talked that fellow into sitting in a room with probably some irritated anglers … I have no idea,” Knudson said with a chuckle. “Many subjects can turn really controversial in Lemhi County. … the fact that she puts herself out there time and again, I think that takes an extraordinary amount of courage.”
Benedict invites everyone to claim Lemhi County’s history as their own, whether they have lived in Lemhi County a short while, their whole lives, or never at all. Why?
“It is everybody’s history,“ Benedict said. “Just because Salmon is so removed doesn’t mean it hasn’t had some effect on the history of the state, the history of the United States.”
A lack of understanding history has and is getting us into some difficult situations, Benedict added, “and without an understanding of where we came from, I think it’s impossible to make better choices.”