Press Release

Tamra J. Ward Named Chair of History Colorado’s Board of Directors

An influential new staff member and four key promotions are also announced.

Denver, Colo. (November 18, 2020) — History Colorado is taking bold steps into the future as this historic year approaches its conclusion.

John Eding, Communications & PR Manager
303-866-3670 |

Tamra J. Ward was elected chair of History Colorado’s governor-appointed Board of Directors at its final meeting of 2020 today. Ward is an advocacy expert and veteran fundraiser known for deep relationships in Colorado’s business, government, and nonprofit communities. History Colorado also welcomes a new chief philanthropy officer with valuable experience supporting rural and underserved communities, Shannon Joern, and announces four promotions linked to important strategic initiatives.   

Ward hits the ground running in her new role. Having already served on the board since 2012, including as vice chair since 2019, she begins from a strong position of continuity as she succeeds Cathey McClain Finlon, who remains on the board following a successful two-year term as chair. Finlon oversaw completion of a year-long strategic planning process led by Daniel L. Ritchie, chancellor emeritus of the University of Denver, and supported a successful philanthropic campaign surrounding History Colorado’s 140th anniversary commemoration. She also organized the nation’s most comprehensive state centenary of the 19th Amendment as chair of the governor-appointed Women’s Vote Centennial Commission. The effort garnered statewide participation and drew influential speakers to Colorado including voting-rights expert Carol Anderson, social-justice legend Dolores Huerta, and former US Ambassador to the UN Samantha Power. 

“Tamra Ward’s wide range of experience and expertise, vital relationships, and peerless tenacity are exactly what History Colorado needs to navigate today’s proliferating challenges, and all of us are eager to work together under her inspiring leadership,” said Steve Turner, Executive Director & State Historic Preservation Officer. “History Colorado is becoming a more agile and resilient organization than ever before.”

“The opportunity to serve Coloradans in the face of adversity has galvanized our organization into action,” said Tamra Ward. “Now, perhaps more than ever in our 141-year history, History Colorado has a critical role to play in collecting, interpreting and sharing the stories of our state. As we learn from the past, and plan for the future, I am truly honored to play a role to support this important organization and all it represents.”

History Colorado serves more than 75,000 students and 500,000 people in Colorado each year. Economic challenges due to Covid-19 have included a 51% reduction to its main funding source. A division of the Colorado Department of Higher Education and a 501(c)3 non-profit, History Colorado is a 141-year-old institution that operates Colorado’s oldest museum, nine additional museums and historic sites, a free public research center, the Office of Archaeology and Historic Preservation, and the History Colorado State Historical Fund (SHF), which is the nation’s largest preservation program of its kind. The SHF currently administers more than 240 grants across 55 counties. More than 70% of its grants are allocated in rural areas of Colorado.

Shannon Joern will now lead History Colorado’s work to secure additional philanthropic and private support for these invaluable services. Like Ward, she begins in a strong position. Her predecessor, Kathi Grummel, passed the baton last month after donations to History Colorado doubled in a single fiscal year under her leadership. Joern is an accomplished fundraising specialist with experience raising more than $45 million in nonprofit support. Most recently, she helped lead the planning, launch, and execution for the State of Colorado Space to Create program that advances affordable housing and work-space projects in rural Colorado communities including Trinidad, Ridgway, Paonia, and Grand Lake.

Joern joins a leadership team that has been bolstered by four recent promotions. Chris Bowles, a third-generation Coloradoan who has dedicated his career to creating large-scale heritage initiatives focused on community inclusion and engagement, has been promoted to Director of Preservation Incentives Programs and Deputy State Historic Preservation Officer. Eric Carpio was promoted to Chief Community Museum Officer. Al Melton has been named Director of the Trinidad History Museum, where they have collaborated with community organizations to offer educational programming since 2017. Dr. Marissa Volpe was named Chief of Equity and Engagement. 

Carpio, who also directs History Colorado’s Fort Garland Museum and Cultural Center, is a Senior Diversity Fellow at the American Alliance of Museums. He joined History Colorado in 2017 as a philanthropy officer for eight museums and historic sites around the state and helped numerous museum initiatives earn funding support, including community history projects, Hands-On History education programs, and the Borderlands of Southern Colorado initiative. He also helped El Pueblo History Museum earn national recognition as a finalist for the Institute for Museum and Library Services 2019 National Medal. Carpio is an alumnus of the Latino Leadership Institute at the University of Denver.

Volpe, who joined History Colorado in 2018 as Director of Community Engagement, has led several successful efforts towards greater diversity, equity, access, and inclusion, most notably History Colorado’s Museum of Memory initiative, a public-history project that helps historically underserved communities reframe challenges and struggles into histories of resilience and pride. The History Colorado Center opens a new Museum of Memory exhibit in partnership with residents and community leaders of Denver’s Five Points neighborhood in the spring of 2021.

History Colorado welcomed three new members to its Board in July. Luis Benitez, Mary Sullivan, and Penfield W. Tate III were appointed by Governor Jared Polis on July 1. Marco Abarca was also reappointed. Bios for all board members are available at

About History Colorado
History Colorado’s eight museums around the state were among the first cultural institutions in Colorado to reopen to visitors under new safety protocols. The swift return to in-person service in June followed an agile reorganization in response to Covid-19 that catalyzed new avenues for youth education, full-length episodes of its podcasts, and a weekly digest with over 25,000 subscribers. As Covid-19 cases surge in Colorado, it has ramped up safe, affordable child care and remote-learning support for families experiencing school closures.

History Colorado’s outlets are publishing Black voices and confronting entrenched racism in historic preservation. Within the last year History Colorado has added curators of Latino Heritage and LGBTQ+ History to its staff, and added a full-time position to its Museum of Memory team, which works proactively to incorporate underserved communities and voices into its contemporary collecting initiative and other efforts. The History Colorado Center is the nation’s first state history museum to display a monument toppled this summer with new, inclusive interpretation. History Colorado now shares anti-racist grounding virtues in all of its job postings, and asks all applicants to describe how these principles have shown up in their previous work and how they would contribute to these virtues in a position at History Colorado.

History Colorado’s mission is to create a better future for Colorado by inspiring wonder in our past. We serve as the state’s memory, preserving and sharing the places, stories, and material culture of Colorado through educational programs, historic preservation grants, collecting, outreach to Colorado communities, the History Colorado Center and Stephen H. Hart Research Center in Denver, and nine other museums and historic attractions statewide. History Colorado is one of only six Smithsonian Affiliates in Colorado. Visit, or call 303-HISTORY, for more information.