Ms. Sue Retires: 33 Years of Encouraging Curiosity

Written by Meghan E. Gattignolo

December 31, 2022 marked the retirement of a long and wonderful career for our most enduring staff member at the Customs House Museum & Cultural Center: Curator of Education, Sue Lewis. 

After an extraordinary career, Sue has decided it’s time to step back. Education has been a passion for her entire adult life. Originally from Georgia, Sue earned her teaching license in 1968 from Newberry College in Newberry, South Carolina. She taught elementary school for years before she landed at the Museum in 1989 – known then as the Clarksville-Montgomery County Historical Museum. At a time when she was looking for a job, a friend told her about an opening for a part-time Activities Coordinator. Sue was hired, and in 1993, she interviewed for the Curator of Education position. She has served the Museum in this role ever since.  

Sue’s Head Start class

Despite her early dedication to education, Sue is the first to admit that she’s no history buff. At least, she wasn’t. “It seemed [history] was always about battles and memorization of dates, which I thought was boring,” said Sue. Working at the Museum soon changed her mind.  

“One of our first programs for adults was about Depression glass. I thought it might be interesting if you collected it… which I did not. I really don’t remember any of the facts about the glassware. What I do remember is what Jill Hosemer, our Registrar, stated at the beginning of the presentation: ‘Depression glass was to that generation as Tupperware is to ours.’ I had a cabinet full of that stuff at home! I could relate! And that’s what ignited my curiosity about history.”  

Sometimes all it takes to appreciate a subject is a little bit of a connection to one’s own life. Her own curiosity, and her desire to spark curiosity in Museum visitors, has propelled Sue’s career. “The experience taught me that we can make history interesting to everybody if we relate the topic back to something the adult or child is familiar with. It’s about showing others how to connect the dots and discover the endless number of subjects that they knew little about.” 

For those of us who grew up around Clarksville in the 1990s, Sue Lewis’s face may be a familiar one. Over the last three decades, Sue has organized and led field trips and scouting events, spearheaded special projects and educational exhibits, and produced storytimes and hands-on programming. Out of all the projects she’s worked on at the Museum, the one she’s most proud of is the Exploring Our Town exhibit that opened in the newly-renovated Explorers Landing last year. The exhibit is the realization of a career-long ambition – from the research for the content on the walls to the theme and layout of the exhibit, Sue was instrumental in the Explorers Landing makeover. 

Museum staff at the Explorers Landing opening
Photo courtesy of Kathryn Ely

Children playing in Explorers Landing
on opening weekend

So, what does Sue plan to do now that she doesn’t have to go to work every day? Traveling is one of her most treasured pastimes, so she intends to spend a lot more time enjoying the rest of the country. Sue loves exploring new places and learning more about subjects that fascinate her. In fact, she already has a trip planned to explore Oklahoma in the spring, thanks to a new passion for Native American history. She also loves treasure hunting in thrift stores, especially for old children’s books. Once she even stumbled across a book that belonged to country music star Brad Paisley!  

Sue says she’ll miss her fellow co-workers the most. For those of us who have had the pleasure of working with Sue, especially this writer, the sentiment is mutual. Sue hired me in September 2017 as a part-time Visitor Services Associate. I still consider her a mentor; I admire her optimistic outlook and her approach to education. Sue’s excitement for learning is contagious. A visit to Sue’s office – which was always filled with fascinating knick-knacks, each with a story she was happy to tell – was rarely a quick one. I always found it so easy to lose half an hour with Sue, chatting about all the interesting things on our minds. She is also the first with a kind word or a show of sympathy when times are tough, an uplifting colleague on any day.    

Sue’s last day at the Museum

“Leaving is hard, but I think I have done – through programs and exhibits – what I was hired to do 33 years ago,” said Sue. “I have encouraged curiosity, which is where learning begins.” 

Join us in saying goodbye to everyone’s favorite Curator of Education in the comments on our Facebook page. We’d love to hear about your treasured memories. Sue will be missed by us all, but the mark she left on the Museum with her heartfelt work will always remain. Enjoy retirement, Sue!   

Meghan E. Gattignolo

Meghan E. Gattignolo is a freelance writer and longtime Clarksville, TN resident. She loves to obsess about historical subjects and annoy her family daily with unsolicited random facts.  Meghan holds a History B.A. from Austin Peay State University and lives in town with her husband and two daughters. 

Becky Wood, Technical Writer, edits each blog post. Maegan Collins, Marketing Communications Manager, prepares photographs and visual images as well as prepares the blog posts for the web.

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