Nancy Salguero McKay has been helping preserve the Highline area’s history for almost 18 years. Starting as a volunteer, she became a paid employee, working part-time with a cohort of volunteers to collect artifacts and oral histories, and document the histories of Burien, SeaTac, Normandy Park, Des Moines, and White Center.
The Highline Heritage Society finished renovations in 2019 to a historic building in Olde Burien they had purchased, opening the doors later that year to the new Highline Heritage Museum. That same year, the board of the nonprofit, volunteer-led organization appointed McKay as the full-time executive director of the Highline Heritage Museum.
The museum is the first historical museum in the area and provides a destination attraction for the Olde Burien neighborhood.
She was nominated to be awarded a Burien Citizen of the Year award by Maureen Hoffman, a former winner of the award. Her creativity in offering programs through the pandemic and her passion for celebrating the diverse identities and communities in Burien were noted.
“Nancy has guided the Highline Heritage Museum toward being a treasured gem in Burien, appreciated by many,” said Hoffman. “She merits recognition for her contribution.”
When asked how she felt about winning the award, she said, “I don’t want to take credit for something that is the result of work of a large group of people. None of the work the museum is doing would be possible without our community, board members, donors, and volunteers.”
McKay, who earned her degree in Museum Studies from the University of Washington in 2004, is the first museum director in Washington state to have been born and raised in Mexico. Her experience as a Mexican American and an immigrant is present in her approach to her work.
“Mexico is one of the cities with the most museums per capita in the world,” said McKay. “I am very proud of my culture and what it means to being a museum director. I want to inspire my community to see themselves in a museum.”
McKay began Burien’s first public Día de los Muertos celebration, which has grown to be one of the largest and most well-attended public celebrations of the holiday in the Seattle area. Under her leadership and guidance, the museum has established partnerships in unexpected places, including hosting a summer program for youth who developed a mural near the Alcove at Seahurst Apartments.
She leads with a commitment to telling the diverse stories of Highline communities, taking an innovative approach to partnering with community leaders, cultural institutions, and ordinary individuals to document and tell our shared history. For example, the descriptions of museum artifacts are written by through community partnerships, and she lets their unique voices shine through.
Some of the exhibits she has co-curated document local social justice movements, like the Black Lives Matter protests and student-led protests that occurred in response to the firing of a gay teacher at a local high school. She has worked to document the pandemic through capturing oral histories and artifacts, such as homemade masks. The museum has partnered with local schools and nonprofit organizations to display art made by local youth.
“What is happening today is tomorrow’s history,” said McKay. “I want to make sure we are listening to the voices of our community, so our children know these stories.”