Schulz Museum in Santa Rosa names new director

This story originally appeared in The Press Democrat, also part of the Sonoma Media Investments news network.

As incoming director of the Charles M. Schulz Museum in Santa Rosa, Gina Huntsinger sees her top priorities as safely reopening the facility once the statewide coronavirus shutdown ends and continuing to reach a worldwide audience online.

The museum’s board, led by Schulz’s widow, Jean Schulz, chose Huntsinger to succeed Karen Johnson, 73, who will retire July 1 after 15 years at the museum’s helm. During her tenure, Johnson oversaw an increase of almost 8% a year in attendance, from 44,423 visitors in the 2004-05 fiscal year to a high of nearly 100,000 in the 2015-16 fiscal year, coinciding with the release of “The Peanuts Movie” by 20th Century Fox.

Johnson helped establish the museum as a tourist destination and community center, with creative, changing exhibits with broad appeal, classes for kids and other community outreach events.

The museum leadership estimates that attendance this year will reach 57,246, because of the impact of the coronavirus shutdowns.

“I consider it my mission to realize that the world has changed beginning with COVID-19 and to see what people’s needs are right now,” said Huntsinger, who will step into her new role July 1.

Huntsinger, 52, has enjoyed a long association with Schulz family. Before becoming general manager of the Snoopy’s Home Ice arena in 2016, she spent 12 years as the Schulz Museum’s marketing director, collaborating with Jean Schulz, the museum’s founder and board president.

“We worked very closely together. We discussed all the press releases,” Schulz, 81, said of Huntsinger. “She was there when I did television interviews, and she actually did my makeup. She knows me and how I feel about Sparky. The museum is personal to me.”

Schulz is one of the original investors in Sonoma Media Investments, the company that owns The Press Democrat.

Huntsinger guided the ice arena through difficult times during her tenure there, Schulz said.

“For the past 3½ years, she has managed Snoopy’s Home Ice through fire, blackouts, remodeling the entire ice surface and now the COVID-19 shutdown,” Schulz said. “She has managed it all with quiet determination.”

Schulz agreed with Huntsinger’s intention to increase emphasis on the museum’s web outreach, which most recently was expanded to include online cartooning lessons by Joe Wos, a longtime mainstay at the museum.

“Over the last 10 years, we’ve talked about putting more of our exhibitions on the internet, so they’re more accessible to people who can’t come to the museum,” Schulz said.

Huntsinger will oversee an average annual budget of $3.5 million and staff of 28, with 11 of them currently furloughed, plus the museum’s lineup of exhibitions, classes, tours and programs for young children and students. The museum houses nearly 8,000 original “Peanuts” comic strips, as well as artwork by Schulz, tributes by other artists and a collection of memorabilia.

Johnson became director of the museum in 2004. After retiring, she plans to continue her own work as an artist.

During her tenure, Johnson drew worldwide attention to the museum with special events. In 2009, Apollo 10 astronauts Gene Cernan and Tom Stafford visited to celebrate the 40th anniversary of Apollo 10, the mission that named its module and capsule Charlie Brown and Snoopy. Tennis star Billie Jean King visited in 2012 for the museum’s exhibition “Leveling the Playing Field,” which celebrated the history of women in sports.

“I liked the fact that we were able to bring in people who had made history,” Johnson said.

Before coming to the Schulz Museum, Johnson spent 15 years as head of the Volunteer Center of Sonoma County, where she was assisted by Tamara Stanley, 52. Stanley went on to serve as CEO of Habitat for Humanity of Sonoma County, and now will succeed Huntsinger as general manager of Snoopy’s Home Ice.

This story originally appeared in The Press Democrat, also part of the Sonoma Media Investments news network.

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