Ambassador keeps outlaw’s story alive

Posted 06/22/2011

by Kevin M. Smith
The Courier-Kearney

Liz Murphy's last name might as well be James. She talks about the James family as though she grew up on the farm just east of Kearney about 150 years ago.

Murphy may have a bit more hospitality than the infamous outlaws, though.

Murphy received this year's Kansas City Area CTA Gold Star Award and then national CTA Star Award earlier this month.

The Certified Tourism Ambassador program trains hospitality employees and volunteers to ensure all encounters with visitors are positive. The program covers customer service in addition to fostering the opportunity to build on local knowledge, according to

The award "recognizes excellence among Certified Tourism Ambassadors (CTAs) nationwide," according to a press release from CTA.

"We selected Liz for her dedication and tireless commitment to the visitor experience," John Marks, co-chair of the TAI Selection Committee and past president of the San Francisco Convention & Visitors Bureau, stated in the press release. "She brings local history, coupled with the specific history of the Jesse James family and Civil War to life."

Murphy, 72, has worked as a historical interpreter at the James Farm Museum the past 10 years. But for her, it was more than a retirement gig.

"I just loved the Old West - that is what Missouri was at the time," Murphy said.

It was not only Murphy's historical knowledge that prompted her nomination for the regional award, which put her in the pool for the national award, but also her diligence to find answers.

"She goes the extra mile to help people with questions," said Beth Beckett, superintendent of Clay County historic sites.

Beckett said if Murphy doesn't know the answer to a visitor's question, she will take the person's name or address and give them an answer as soon as she finds it.

"We have guests that only come when Liz is working," Beckett said.

Murphy won the local Star Award presented by the Heartland Tourism Ambassador Program administered by the Kansas City Regional Destination Development Foundation. She then won the national award from CTA.

Taking a group through the James farm house following a reception honoring her awards June 9, Murphy described discrepancies in historical information. The house was originally thought to be built from a Sears kit, but later research showed it doesn't match any of those floor plans, she explained. She also describes events, such as the Pinkerton Raid, almost as though she heard the story straight from the James family. However, she readily admits to gaps in information.

"She's a great encyclopedia of information," Emily M. Doolan, assistant superintendent of Clay County historic sites, stated in a press release. "She's the go-to person when staff and visitors have questions about history and the contents of the museum library that she established."

Murphy said she was shocked to learn she had won the award.

"I was standing there open mouthed," Murphy said. "I was just totally amazed."

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