In April 2022, when then-Chairman of the Western Spirit Board of Trustees, Jim Bruner, rotated into the Chairman Emeritus role after 16.5 years, fellow trustees and staff created a plan to honor Jim and his wife Sandy for their many years of dedication and contributions to the museum. Thus, the Bruner Scholars Fund was born. Friends, colleagues, and trustees generously contributed to the fund, surprising Jim and Sandy with the news at the 2022 Western Spirit annual meeting.

A scholars committee was quickly formed to develop a purpose for the fund. The mission of the Bruner Scholars Fund is to provide students in Arizona’s higher education system who have an interest in Western Studies with opportunities to complement their classroom learning through engagement at Western Spirit: Scottsdale’s Museum of the West, where they will be immersed in stories of the North American West, illuminating the past to shape the future.

Applications were accepted and reviewed over the Summer, and in August the first Bruner Scholar was named – Gabriel Santiago, an ASU senior in the Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College, studying both education and history. Gabriel is in his final semester of coursework prior to student teaching in the Spring.

Gabriel is working directly with Executive Director, James Burns, to relaunch the museum’s adult public programming series, something our audiences have been anxiously anticipating. He will also be interacting with the marketing, curatorial, registrarial, exhibitions, and development staff, providing him with a well-rounded experience, something Jim and Sandy really want for the scholars in this program. Gabriel will be enhancing his existing skills by planning, implementing, marketing, and evaluating programs.

Gabriel’s letter of interest impressed reviewers, particularly his passion for studying history of the North American West, rooted in a deeply meaningful place – his family. He wrote about the alignment between his own values and those of Western Spirit, observing: “my study of history, the American West, and museums, far transcends a career choice but is rather an outward expression of my inward identity and devoted act of public service.”

Gabriel recalled:

“In the seventh grade, my wise history teacher created a project in which we were to design our family tree. From conversations with the elders in my family a great passion was born, and a captivating story was told. From three points of the compass my ancestors of three different ethnicities, cultures, and backgrounds arrived in the West. I am descended from a family who fought for the Confederacy and the Union. I have family who are the direct descendants of freed slaves. And finally, exiles from the Mexican Revolution. They each converged and found refuge in the West.

My family’s story is fascinating, but it is hardly unique. The aspect of history that I love the most is that everyone has their own story to discover and appreciate. Historians, museums, and other historical sites act as physical spaces for people to express their inward historical identity. Western Spirit serves to tell the story of this amazing land and the people that have shaped it, changed it, and called it home. As an aspiring history teacher, I hope to take this vision into the classroom and to help foster a new generation of curious learners. I have tremendous respect for the work done by Jim and Sandy Bruner in enriching the lives of Arizonans through their public service and investment in advancing our history.

Therefore, as I begin my career, whatever it may be, I devote it to be one that serves others. As the Bruner Scholar I will both serve and learn; give and receive, for I believe in our local museums and the value that they hold. Thank you for taking the time to read this letter; I would be humbled to be selected.”

Humble is the word that best describes Gabriel. You’ll have opportunities to meet him at some of the Thursday evening programs beginning in October and running throughout the season. Please give him a warm Western Spirit welcome!