Ruth Kirk retires from Whitley County Historical Museum after 19 years of service
(Talk of the Town photo by Jennifer Zartman Romano) Ruth Kirk, former director of the Whitley County Historical Museum, above at her desk, retired in January after 19 years of leading area residents and school children on adventures with history. Below, a contributed photo shows Kirk as she lead a history program at a local school.
By Jennifer Zartman Romano
After nineteen years of history in a place dedicated to history, countless school children in Whitley County will fondly recall their first introduction to the excitement of local history with Ruth Kirk.
Kirk was director of the Whitley County Historical Museum until her retirement in early January and will be long remembered by many for the various roles she played at the museum over the years, sparking in children and adults alike, an interest in our community’s history.
Kirk was the manager of a technical company in Daleville, Indiana, a town between Anderson and Muncie. Her husband, Tom, was a teacher and on weekends, the couple relished trips to their cottage on Loon Lake in northern Whitley County. Tom eventually began teaching in the area and the couple relocated to Loon Lake. The timing was right and Kirk saw the opening for the museum director position, a position she was hired for in October 1988.
In addition to overseeing the activities of the museum, Kirk developed over 27 different programs. She, along with the museum’s curator, Susan Richey, not only presented these programs in the museum and on the grounds of the historical society property, they took them on the road, too.
“We did programs for schools in Fort Wayne, Huntington, Anderson and in Appalachia,” Kirk said.
Kirk and Richey became so well known in museum circles, they were asked to present at conferences in Minnetrista and in Manistee, Michigan. The most acclaimed program was entitled “Programs on a Shoestring Budget,” sharing their personal experiences with creating meaningful, entertaining programs for young people with little or no expense – a strategy that served Kirk well throughout her career with the Whitley County Historical Society.
“My favorite program was the first one we developed – Murder at the Museum,” she said. “It was based on the game “Clue.” Kirk said she also enjoyed one about the pioneers of Whitley County and one that took youngsters through a general store as it might have appeared generations ago. In each program, Kirk had a unique, trademark character that lead the learning process.
“Doc Waterfall once said that my husband must be a bigamist living with all the characters I’ve played over the years,” Kirk joked on the day of her retirement, January 4.
Over the years, Kirk has also been the mastermind behind many of the museum’s displays and worked with countless groups and organizations to bring displays to the museum for local residents to enjoy.
“I think my favorite might be the miniatures,” she said. “The ladies came from a miniatures club in Fort Wayne and set up a display one year during Old Settlers Day.”
Kirk also fondly recalls the many activities that brought people to the museum property over the years, including Civil War displays and a craft shows on the lawn – held long before the Annex Building was built on the property.
While Kirk was looking forward to her retirement, she was a little pensive too.
“I will miss the people – the people I work with, the teachers,” she said. “The most interesting part of this place is that every day you come in here, something happens that you don’t expect.”
Now that she’s retired, Kirk does hope to remain involved with the Whitley County Historical Society as a volunteer for a building and an organization she invested so much of her time, energy and talent to help build.