Returning to my hometown and serving at the Barbour County Historical Museum has given me the opportunity to connect with museum visitors. I enjoy answering questions and learning things for and with the visitors. I do my best to connect the museum to each person’s own interests and history, for even if they’re from far away there is something in the history of Barbour County for all.
One visit that stood out was that of Zachary and Katherine Cunningham. Zach is a Barbour County native who recently returned to the area with his wife Katie to open up a chiropractic office in Philippi. Katie’s mother was visiting Philippi for the first time and they all three passed by the museum and saw it was open. Though Zach had been there several times as a child, Katie and her mother had never been. At the time there were several guests in the museum and I was circling around the museum to answer any questions.
Wandering by Zach, Katie, and her mom, I overheard a discussion between the two of them looking at the high school photos, searching for Zach’s father. I asked them what years he was in school, between 1959-63. The Barbour County Historical Museum had recently received some year books, including the year Gary Cunningham had been in school. Later I asked Zach and Katie about their visit to the museum and about Gary Cunningham. Gary Cunningham had spent his first three years at Philippi High School and was part of the first class to graduate from Philip Barbour High School. He went to Fairmont State and returned as a biology teacher, after which he went back to school to become a dentist. Gary Cunningham passed away in January of this year.
I didn’t know any of this when I went searching for the yearbooks. Zach later told me that seeing his father in a yearbook photo gave him a sense of nostalgia. He could imagine his dad as young kid, growing up in Philippi in a way that is both so different and so similar to today. He said he was impressed on how quickly I picked up on cues and brought them the yearbook. It gave him a personal connection to the Barbour County Historical Museum and and demonstrated how his own family history fits into it. Katie also told me how they walked away from the museum talking about how special it was.
Though I don’t have a yearbook with everyone’s parents in it, I do try to make that personal connection with people. Whether they’re from Barbour County or not, there is something in the story of this place that connects with their own story. I love to find those connections and share them with visitors.
Marisa Terwilliger served as the Preserve WV AmeriCorps member at the Barbour County Historical Museum for the 2021-2022 program year.
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