Finding a home with history
Written by JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN Sentinel County Editor
Friday, 07 December 2012 10:54
Dana Nemeth has come home to the old county infirmary.
|Dana Nemeth, the new director for the Wood County Historical Center. (Photo: Enoch Wu/Sentinel-Tribune)
Nemeth, who grew up a quarter mile away from the former county poorhouse, has taken over as director of the Wood County Historical Center now on the site.
"I remember when it was still the nursing home. I grew up down the street," she said. "I remember coming over here with my dad, as a kid."
Nemeth grew to love the site. But her heart was lost to another love when she later spent a year in England as an exchange student. Growing up in Bowling Green, she had never been in a large city before, she said.
"I walked into the National Gallery and there was a picture by Van Gogh. I couldn't believe I could walk in off the street and see a masterpiece like this," she said.
It was at that point that Nemeth shifted her career goals from being a teacher to being a cultural historian, who teaches in a museum rather than a classroom.
"I love museums," she said.
Nemeth, the daughter of Dorsey and Kay Sergent, spent her senior year interning at the Smithsonian Museum of American History, in the popular culture department.
"I knew then I wanted to make museums my career," she said.
She went on to work at the Museum of the Moving Image in New York City, then returned to Bowling Green in 2006. She took a job as a library associate at the Center for Archival Collections at Bowling Green State University.
But Nemeth found herself drawn back to the site she often visited as a child, now being used as the county historical center. She took on volunteer positions with such events as the Smithsonian traveling Foodways exhibit, and the annual Heritage Days. Then last year, she was appointed to the museum board of trustees by the county commissioners, and served as the membership committee chairperson.
"I love this place. You can't get it out of your blood," she said.
When the former museum director, Christie Weininger Raber announced she was resigning to take the director's position at the Hayes Presidential Center in Fremont, Nemeth realized this was her chance to return to her passion for museum work.
"I could do what I love in our own backyard," she said.
And that means teaching the public about all the stories the museum has to tell. She wants those visiting to be engaged by the site and staff.
"I hope they're inspired and they walk away knowing something they never knew before," Nemeth said. "I hope they see something on exhibit that brings back memories, or makes a connection between the past and their lives and realize it's important for us to understand history."
While the aging site provides a lot of challenges, it also offers so many possibilities for learning.
"We will continue to work on preservation and restoration of the site," she said, such as the recent work on the stone wall in front of the museum. "The Brandeberry wall is just so beautiful. I think it's just amazing."
Nemeth predicted more focus on the many museum outbuildings that are in need of repair, "to help tell the story of the site. We're fortunate to have so many of the original buildings on the site." Those buildings include the ice house, chicken coop and asylum.
"The asylum is a way to tell the history of how people with mental health problems have been treated over the years," she said.
The museum serves a dual purpose of showing how the county poorhouse functioned for decades, and focus on the overall history of the county. To do the latter, the museum grounds have a boomtown exhibit with a working oil derrick and a log cabin.
The historical center also has the challenge of offering exhibits of interest to all ages.
"That's really exciting to me to create programs for all ages," Nemeth said.
The center has four full-time and one part-time staff members.
"I inherited great staff," Nemeth said. She will also be working with the hundreds of volunteers, who like her, can't get the museum out of their blood.