With a master’s degree from Harvard in hand, and 11 years experience as a financial adviser for oil companies in Kazakhstan under his belt, Steve Fast has accepted a unique career change as part-time museums coordinator in Hillsboro.
Fast was hired by the city in March for 15 hours a week primarily to lead tours at the Adobe House and Schaeffler House and help explain the historic artifacts therein to curious visitors.
So far, he enjoys his work.
“I’ve always been interested in history,” Fast said. “I think every little town has a museum, but Hillsboro has some unique stuff. People have really worked hard here to preserve things and tell the story of the town.
“I think Hillsboro is unusual in how much it has preserved its past and how interesting it is.”
Path to the present
Fast grew up in Optima, Okla., a panhandle town of 90 people. He completed his undergrad degree at Oklahoma University, then earned a master’s in Russian studies at Harvard.
From there, Fast traveled to Kazakhstan to emerse himself in the former Soviet state, where he served as a tent-maker with the goal of growing house churches.
During his time there, Fast was employed as a financial consultant for Hurricane Hyrdrocarbons, a Canadian oil company that has since changed its name to PetroKazakhstan.
“I loved the experience and I’d go back there tomorrow if I could,” Fast said. “I left in 2007 when there was a financial crisis and I couldn’t find more work.”
Fast lived in Houston from 2007 to 2016, but wasn’t happy in the big city. Meanwhile, his parents, Harold and Anna Fast, had moved to Hillsboro when they retired. Their son decided to join them.
“My dad went to Tabor, so that’s the connection,” Fast said. “I moved here in February last year to be closer to them. I was sick of the city, and I grew up in a small town.”
Learning the role
Fast said he is enjoying his part-time position with the museums, but he also augments his limited salary from the city by continuing his financial consulting work for oil and gas clients in the U.S. and abroad.
With his interest in Russian studies, Fast has a special affinity for the Adobe House complex, which reflects the community’s Mennonite heritage.
“One thing that’s unusual about Hillsboro were the number of people who came from Prussia,” he said. There were still a lot of Mennonites there. The majority of course, in the 1870s and ’80s came from Russia, but there some that came from Prussia and most of them came here.”
The Adobe House reflects a unique mix of exhibits.
“We have some things that are really unusual,” he said. “We have a couple of clocks that were made in Russia. Mennonites were known as clock makers, so we have a couple of those.
Between tours, Fast said he enjoys figuring out how the tools from the 19th century were used and the insights they provide about pioneer culture.
“There’s equipment in the barn that’s been preserved—like a couple of old carpenters benches,” he added. “You can see the tools that they used. They had one plane that cut the tongue-and-groove for siding and flooring.
“I think it’s interesting to learn how stuff worked and compare it to things we do now. If you do carpentry, you have a table saw, a circular saw, or whatever. It’s all electric and you don’t realize how hard people back then.”
Fast said he also appreciates the creativity of pioneer families.
“To think of ways to do things without electric power, they were amazingly creative,” he said. “It really connects us with the past.”
Fast said the Schaeffler House is a unique exhibit as well.
“Lots of times, a wealthy family builds a nice house, which they remodel and change it—but this house pretty much has stayed the same,” he said. “The furnishing are very much like they were at the time the house was built, which is unusual.
“Robert Schaeffler, who lived there, never married and he really didn’t change things,” Fast added. “He didn’t build on, he didn’t throw out the old furniture. So it’s really stayed very much the way it was.”
Job description evolving
The museums job did surface a few surprises.
“There’s a lot more preservation-type work than I expected,” he said. “We recently got a $69,000 grant from the state to fix up the Adobe House, so I’m working on getting contractors lined up. But as you go along, you see more things that need to be done.
“Objects in the museum need to be repaired, and it has to be done right. You can’t just use super glue.”
Fast hopes to draw more visitors, both local and out of town, by organizing and promoting special exhibits at the museums.
“That’s kind of why we’re doing the trunks (exhibit) this summer,” he said. “I think I counted 11 trunks here, and then four at the Schaeffler House from when they immigrated.
“There’s family members in town who are descendants of those people, and there’s a story behind every trunk that came here.”
Fast also envisions special exhibits featuring carpentry tools and even pioneer-era toys.
“Those sort of things are really interesting,” he said. “Things like that are fresh things that a lot of people would come and see, as well as tours from outside. Even if they’ve seen the Adobe House before, maybe they haven’t seen the trunk tour.”
Fast plans to present the “trunk tour” exhibit this summer.