Interns invaluable for county heritage museum

The Union County Historical Society and Heritage Museum are embarking on an effort to raise approximately $1 million for a much-needed expansion of the museum.

Included in the plans is adding to the museum staff.

But for the past three years the museum has been fortunate to have extra help in the form of interns from Blue Mountain College.

“We have had about 10,” Museum Director Jill Smith said, “and I hope it has been as good for them as it has for us.”

The students have mostly been history majors, who are a natural fit for museum work, but each has brought something different. “It is interesting to see the unique skill sets they can plug in in so many places,” she said.

Of course the students get credit for their 135 to 140 hours of work in a semester but Smith said “They also get a taste of real life.”

For its part, the museum gets assistance it might not otherwise have in a variety of tasks that are necessary but sometimes would have to be lower priority with a smaller staff.

“You can’t put a value on it,” Smith said, from the museum’s perspective. But if the museum were having to pay someone to do these tasks it would likely cost anywhere from $18 to $30 an hour.

“They do everything,” she said. “They help with exhibit preparation, they do research or prepare objects, they all interact with the public, they catalog, they scan.”

Smith said she has been impressed with the quality of students Blue Mountain sends. “Most have initiative. For jobs that would be difficult to do, they figure out a way,” she said.

“Almost all we have had come back from time to time,” she said. “I would love to have one back full-time. They really did learn to like what we do here.”

Smith sought out the intern program in the first place, not realizing how valuable it would prove to be. “Dr. Stewart Bennett, head of the history department (and who lives here) was the catalyst,” she said. “This was something we had wanted in our long-range plan.”

Smith had gotten occasional help with special project such as the Ingomar Mounds “but not as extensive as this.”

“We get put down as references by most of them and I pretty much give them all good references,” she said.

As the museum expansion moves forward, she hopes the staff addition will come with it. But also with the expansion will come a greater need for staff. She also hopes that the museum can add a paid intern program. The continued cooperation with Blue Mountain and its interns should continue to provide a valuable service for both participating students and the museum, she said.


Ashe is good example of student intern diversity

Susan Ashe may be a typical Union County Heritage Museum intern – which is to say she is a highly non-typical person.

Ashe is, of course, a student at Blue Mountain college, which has provided interns for the past three years.

She is also from Potts Camp with plenty of local ties, being the great-niece of Flick Ashe and related to the Gadds and the Rakestraws and others.

She may be a few years older than most interns because she worked for several years before deciding on college. She also spent four years in the Navy.

Ashe worked in quality control at Caye Furniture, was a bank teller and assisted attorneys including Will Ford here. All these jobs had their good points and Ashe did well in them but the Navy probably was a bit different in terms of excitement.

Ashe worked on the engines of F-404 and F-414 Super Hawks and also with a variety of aviation ordinance – essentially bombs and missiles – and is qualified with every single weapon used in the military. She has visited nearly 30 countries, serving in some, and is knowledgeable in both surface and aerial warfare.

That might not sound like a museum intern, but it highlights the variety of knowledge and skills all the interns have brought to New Albany’s museum.

Concerned the military was becoming too political, Ashe eventually decided to leave and go to school, which brings her here.

“I graduated in May,” she said, needing only her internship hours to complete her academic obligation. “I got my bachelor’s in two years,” she added.

Another indication of her ambition and hard work is that the museum was her second internship this year. “I also did one at the Blue Mountain Library,” she said.

If she seems familiar to some, it may be that she was also assistant coach for the Hickory Flat girls basketball team two years ago and was a player for then-coach Chuck Poer, before he came to New Albany.

Her goal now is to coach and teach and she has applied for an August teaching position.

As to why she wanted to work at the museum, Ashe said, “I knew Miss Jill. I had worked with her.” More to the point, she said, “I love history. I particularly love military history.”

Ashe may have an academic side, but she also admits to being something of what used to be called a “tomboy.”

“I’m a cowgirl,” she said. “I have horses and cows and a garden. I can drive a tractor, bale hay, just about anything.”

At the museum the past three weeks, director Jill Smith said Ashe has been invaluable, cleaning, clearing and organizing in the house behind the museum. That house will need to be demolished to make way for the building expansion so everything in it will have to go somewhere else.

“We haven’t had the time and she has gotten it all done in just about a day,” Smith said. Ashe also has been making quilt blocks for the museum quilt trail, archiving accumulated items, giving tours and helping with programs such as Museum Madness this week.

Ashe’s one regret about her job is “I like the history side. Sometimes the museum is more the art side.”

Perhaps not so much in keeping with the history academic as with the cowgirl, Ashe considers herself a “prepper.”

That’s not the same thing as a survivalist. “I’m just into old-fashioned ways,” she said.

But like a survivalist, Ashe prefers to have the ability to take care of herself and be prepared. She grows and cans food the old-fashioned way and gets her garden seeds from the Amish rather than commercially, due to built-in obsolescence. “The seeds we plant this year can only be used this year,” she said. “They will not germinate next year.” That’s why she has a good relationship with the Amish colony near Pontotoc.

Ashe said probably the best way to learn about preppers is to read a book by a relative of hers, Mississippi writer Johnnie G. Love: “When Chaos Reigned; The Say the Lights Went Out,” which is about what happens when solar flares knock out our technology.

Ashe will be continuing her internship and hopes to be teaching and coaching in the Potts Camp area this fall.