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A true volunteer effort

Docents provide backbone
of Historic Madison Inc. properties

They greet visitors
and provide unique insight

By Ruth Wright

MADISON, Ind. (April 2004) – Historic Madison, Inc. welcomes volunteers. In fact, the organization couldn’t get along without them. “We couldn’t have our museums open without them – they’re that critical,” said HMI Executive Director John Staicer.
A nonprofit organization, HMI was founded in 1960 by John T. Windle and a group of like-minded business people to support the preservation, restoration, education and development of Madison, Ind.

HMI docents-Locust Grove

Photo courtesy of HMI

Historic Madison Inc. docents pose during
a visit to Locust Grove in Louisville.

That mission has largely been made possible by hundreds of community residents who have volunteered their time.
In 1963, when HMI opened its first house museum, the Judge Jeremiah Sullivan House, the Docent Associates volunteer program was founded. Since then, docents have contributed thousands of hours annually to the successful operation of the organization’s historic properties.
“It’s been a very important program to HMI for a long time,” said Director of Programs Kim Nyberg.
Over the years, HMI has acquired additional properties. The organization now owns and maintains 16 properties. Four have been turned into museums that are staffed entirely by volunteers. On any given day during the summer and fall season, HMI docents can be found explaining the history of Dr. William D. Hutchings’ Office and Hospital at 120 W. Third St., fielding questions about the architecture of the Sullivan House at 304 W. Second St., or leading a tour of the Schroeder Saddletree Factory at 106 Milton St. Other HMI properties where docents work include the Francis Costigan House at 408 W. Third St. and the Talbott-Hyatt Pioneer Garden on the 300 block of West Second Street.
Docents also participate in HMI’s Weavers’ and Garden Guilds, give tours and perform demonstrations during Heritage Days and work in the HMI office.
The Weavers’ Guild produces traditional woven articles and candles that are displayed in the museums and made available for purchase. The Garden Guild contributes many hours of work to improve the pioneer garden, which contains many early roses and other early 19th century plantings. Docents in the HMI office work on projects involving research, data entry, filing, sorting and bulk mailings. Also completely volunteer is HMI’s board of directors.
The longevity of many HMI volunteers is a testament to their commitment to the organization. Madison resident Sarah Vest has been a docent since 1971. She has worked in most of the museums at one time or another during her 33 years of service.
“It’s been good for me,” said Vest, who enjoys sharing her knowledge of local history with those who come through the museums. “They ask me questions, so I have to be on the ball,” she said.
Barbara and Dick Conklin of Hanover, Ind., and Helen Rains of Madison are also long-time docent associates.
Barbara Conklin has been volunteering for about 30 years; Dick Conklin for about 14 years. The couple have worked at both Dr. Hutchings Office and the Sullivan House.
“I’ve enjoyed just being in the houses,” Dick Conklin said. “You kind of step back into another century. It’s fun to imagine what it was like when people were living there.”
Barbara Conklin added, “It’s been great fun to get to know other people who are docents.” Both agreed that meeting visitors also has been a highlight.
Helen Rains, a lifetime Madison resident and retired elementary school teacher, has been a docent for more than 17 years. She has worked mostly in the Sullivan and Costigan homes. “I have enjoyed meeting different people from different areas and seeing how much they enjoy visiting Madison and seeing the homes,” Rains said.
Louise Kant, a docent since 1998, said she enjoys not only meeting visitors, but speaking with local residents who come through the Costigan house where she usually works. “They tell me lots of interesting things,” said Kant.
For the past two years, Karen Dickie of Madison has served as Docent Associates president. Her duties have entailed organizing meetings and activities, which includes during the summer a monthly luncheon and program for the volunteers. She also works at Dr. Hutchings’ Office. “I try to, as much as I can, help (visitors) see what Dr. Hutchings’ life was like,” she said.
About 100 people are currently involved with HMI’s Docent Associates program. Many will swing into action on April 3-4 when the organization opens its museums for the first weekend of the season. “They’re sort of the welcome wagon for people coming into the community who visit our properties,” said Staicer.
Although response from the community has been outstanding, HMI is always in need of additional volunteers. Anyone who enjoys history and is interested in promoting Madison can volunteer to serve at one of the museums or in other areas as needed.

• A brochure explaining the Docent Associates program is available at HMI’s office located at 500 West St. Or call (812) 265-2967.

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