What does a history museum do when a large part of its own history is lost? We will soon find out, because 13 of our staff members will retire by December 31. The Smithsonian made them a buyout offer they could not refuse, and they will depart to begin their lives in retirement. They have big and divergent plans; none include a rocking chair but one features a motorcycle!
Why retire? Most of them said they had been thinking about it, and the incentive of the buyout was the extra push. In addition to being practical (and taking the money), they were philosophical. All have worked at the Smithsonian for over 20 years, so this is not a decision they took lightly. They all felt the timing was right.
What will these highly skilled museum professionals do? Several of them mentioned that their first task is to turn off the alarm clock. No more 7AM trains or 3:45AM wake up calls. Then, a whole lot of pent up creativity will be released. I learned that inside the suits of curators and programmers are artists and painters. People will travel to visit friends and family around the country. Some said they would travel, come home to rest, and travel some more.
Just as the Smithsonian has benefited from their years of service, now their communities will become the beneficiaries. People who have been hard workers here intend to be hard working volunteers out in the world. Their contribution will continue. Some said they might be back at the Smithsonian to volunteer, but one made it clear that "If I was going to volunteer here, I would stay as an employee. That is why they call this work.”
When asked what they would miss most, it was unanimous that it was the people. More specifically, “the exciting, wonderful, idiosyncratic and never-totally-predictable” people. Whether they were colleagues, friends, mentors, mentees or all of the above, it was the break from the personal connections that made the retirees the most wistful.
Finally, most look back fondly over their years and are proud that they were part of this “renowned institution” and of their public service. They should be proud. With 367 years of service among them, they accomplished a great deal, and we are very grateful.
Our best wishes and sincere thanks go to:
- Tom Bower
- Pete Daniel
- Sherman Ellegood
- Karen Harris
- Jim Hughes
- Reuben Jackson
- Brian Jensen
- Marcia Powell
- Ann Rossilli
- Kathy Spiess
- Sue Walther
- Bill Withuhn
Kathy Sklar is the business program manager at the National Museum of American History.
Editor's note: You can learn more about the museum's talented staff on our Web site.