Return to Gerald M. Best Senior Achievement Awards

Denny S. Anspach

Denny S. Anspach by John Gruber

The R&LHS presented its 2014 Gerald M. Best Senior Achievement Award to Dr. Denny S. Anspach on March 7 at the California State Railroad Museum. He played a critical role in establishing the museum in Sacramento. Today it is one of the premier railroad museums in the world, an extraordinary gift to tourists, railroad researchers, and its owners, the citizens of California.

Dr. Anspach retired after 46 years as a diagnostic radiologist specializing in breast care. He graduated from the Stanford University School of Medicine in 1960 and interned at the Mary Fletcher Hospital in Burlington, Vermont (now the University of Vermont Medical Center). After returning to Stanford for his residency at the Stanford Medical Center (1961-64), the opportunity to head the Radiology Department at Kirk Army Hospital in Aberdeen, Maryland, led him back east for two years.

Anspach joined the R&LHS Pacific Coast Chapter in 1957; his interest was in the chapter’s locomotive and rolling stock collection. “The time was ripe,” he observes, “as enthusiasm for the 1969 Golden Spike centennial was growing. But the spark of it all actually came from a serendipitous move by Sacramento interests to obtain the Central Pacific RR #1, Governor Stanford, for exhibition.” In 1964 the famous locomotive was removed from the Stanford campus for temporary storage at the Santa Fe shops in Richmond. “I was on site at the removal, and then functioned as its de facto custodian for years following.”

After many fits and starts, eyes and hopes settled on a waterfront site on the Sacramento River at Old Sacramento. It was there–thanks to the combined efforts of the Pacific Coast Chapter, Sacramento community and business interests, railroads themselves, and soon the State of California–that ideas and reality began to merge.

As founding president of the Sacramento Trust for Historic Preservation, Dr. Anspach’s leadership was crucial and personal. In 1970, Anspach hosted a dinner on board the Gold Coast for Nancy and Ronald Reagan designed to win the governor’s support. The Southern Pacific Railroad served the dinner from the kitchen of the Sunset Limited Audubon dining car. “It was an event, really, filled with showmanship–something which I think the Reagans appreciated.”

Dr. Anspach’s role in the museum planning can be seen in his service as editor and principal author of a 197-page master plan, California State Railroad Museum: Recommendations for Planning & Development, published in 1972. Dr. Anspach remains active on the Board of Directors of the Museum Foundation he also helped to create, and serves on its executive committee. His other interests include antique boat restoration and model railroading.

The field of railroad history is in Dr. Anspach’s debt for his tireless and creative pursuit of the dream fulfilled that is the California Railroad Museum. He says it best: “I think everyone has in their mind’s eye a gleam of something they aim at–even if we fall short there’s happiness in working along toward a goal. The Museum exceeds anything I thought it would be!”

Mark Entrop, R&LHS awards chairman, announced the award and presented the certificate to Anspach at the reception in Sacramento. The full citation appears in the Quarterly Newsletter, Spring 2015.