The newest director of the HPD Museum is hoping to capture the interest of volunteers – even for the daunting task of digitizing HPD archives.
The volunteer-intensive concept and practice has become a crucial part of the stepped-up rejuvenation effort supported by the HPD Command Staff to enhance the awareness of the department’s history.
As was apparent during Police Week, a primary emphasis lies with extraordinary recognition of fallen heroes who paid the ultimate price for the citizens of Houston.
Volunteer Numbers Grow
And now Officer Howard D. Thevenin, inspired by those heroes, stays excited about the ongoing team effort to enhance the museum’s services, visibility, and overall mission.
Thevenin’s approach has reinvigorated the HPD Museum and has graciously accepted the help of numerous volunteers who painstakingly have undertaken the task of the digitization of endless stacks of records and archives.
“Digitizing is obviously a laborious task,” he told the Badge & Gun. “Volunteers are essential and an important part of our team”.
“They come in three times a week. We are trying to get it to four times by coming in on the weekends to get this task done a little faster. The volunteers are all for it. Some are unable to make it during the week and they actually asked to come in on Saturday.”
“We want to accommodate them as much as possible and provide an environment so they can work comfortably. It takes patient individuals who are very thorough and detail-oriented. Our volunteers have demonstrated all those traits and more.”
“I am so grateful for them. I’m unable to express the type of appreciation I have for and what we have accomplished so far.”
As we have reported before and continue to stress, Thevenin is part of an awesome team of museum advocates and workers that include Community Affairs Officer Johanna Abad, original HPD Museum Director Denny Hair (HPD Retired) and another long-time advocate and history enthusiast, Charles Williams (HPD retired).
The team stands staunchly with the support of the department from Police Chief Troy Finner on down.
They stay emboldened.
“We want to be impartial,” the museum director since April 2020 said. “We’re just telling the story of the Houston police and the brave men and women that paid the ultimate price.
“That has been my main goal since I took over and although the breadth of my duties expanded beyond line of duty deaths, I knew it needed to be central part of the museum. My main priority was honoring the fallen men and women of the Houston Police Department that paid the ultimate price.
“That was my main goal. Now it is developed into very much more specific items such as doing interviews, digitizing our archives, revamping displays, and preserving what we have.
“Hopefully, we are able to maintain the enthusiasm we have and are able to accomplish what our team planned originally –a legacy project where it’s going to take multiple generations to complete, but we are able to maintain our story.”
Oral History Emphasis
History has always been a favorite subject of this Dominican Republic native who grew up in New York and New Jersey before coming to Houston to graduate in HPD Academy Class No. 227 and going on patrol at North Shepherd. A family man with a wife and two kids, Thevenin holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees, and will soon be a PhD candidate in the field of Public Administration.
Officer Thevenin does not like to admit it, but sources tell us he spent his own money to purchase video equipment to be used to record retiree memoirs. He admitted he was enthusiastic about interviewing HPD retirees to take down their war stories and get their perspectives from earlier generations.
“We love hearing from retirees,” he explained. “If they have stories they want to share, we will be happy to hear them and record them for the archives.
“I hope the retirees reach out to me and let me know what they have. The stories are what gets me about the retirees. They tell me their stories and what they say continues to fascinate me.”
One major point: Technology has prompted dramatic changes over the past few decades. Officers in, say, the 1950s and 1960s, never had laptops in their shops. And today’s officers never had to worry about cranking a siren to get through traffic to emergencies.
But there are things in the policing world that haven’t changed: “Criminals are criminals and the streets are the streets,” an enthusiastic Thevenin pointed out in the context of history and the HPD Museum.
“Retirees bring a perspective from the fifties, sixties and seventies,” he said. “There was a different political climate. There was the civil rights movement. We have police officers who were knee-deep in those earlier times. The eye- opening stories they can provide is incredible.
“I urge each of them to come spend an hour with me and just talk about their experiences and also consider what they might want to donate for our displays.”
He said he works with the individuals to be interviewed “to make sure they’re comfortable talking in front of a camera. Then I ask them to tell me about their experiences and let them take over the story-telling about their particular time or era.”
Team Members’ Strengths
As the regulars at 1200 Travis – from the brass to the basement – know, the current museum locale has strong points and weaknesses. The latter, of course, is space limitation and lack of amenities like free parking for museum visitors.
The displays are limited by space – unlike those set up by Denny Hair when the museum was located at the Academy and played host to a number of younger visitors from area schools, with Hair serving as a tour guide.
“The displays are excellent,” Thevenin said, referring to the later conglomeration at 1200 Travis. “They actually show the rich history of the department. Since most have seen them now, what I am trying to do trying to do is go through the artifacts we have and get some new displays in and maintain what is there.
“We want to preserve what we have and display them in a way that is still representative of what we want to put out there in a way that is not damaging to the artifacts.”
Thevenin does not want to get tied up in the idea of expanding to a more spacious location and, when questioned on the subject, smiled and said, “Patience is a virtue.”
The team working with him helps to ease the frustration.
“Johanna (Abad) has been an essential part of our team,” the museum director pointed out. “She is also a catalyst to a lot of our projects and offers a lot of ideas and has become a key part of the progress we’re trying to make.
“Denny brings history, a great knowledge and just general information in addition to the actual artifacts and the vast amount of items he collected over the years.
“Another person essential to preserving the history and how to manage and move forward is Charles Williams, a crucial member of our team who is managing our museum inventory software. He also manages the volunteers by scheduling and training them and motivates them to become eager to do the job.”
The signs are that that eagerness continues to reach high levels with the museum’s current plan of rejuvenation and recognition by the Houston community.