COOKEVILLE – The shelves are filled with boxes – all of them numbered, all of them labeled.
Inside the boxes are historic treasures, all of which have passed through the meticulous hands of Cookeville History Museum volunteer Joanne White.
“My job has been to sort out all of the artifacts,” White said. “That includes taking pictures of each item, putting them on the computer, numbering them and sorting out the store room.”
It’s a job that has taken White more than a decade to complete – and one that has earned her recognition by the Tennessee Association of Museums.
During the annual conference in March, White received TAM’s Award of Excellence for Volunteerism.
“Joanne’s contributions to our Cookeville museums have been innumerable and her dedication unsurpassed,” Beth Thompson, Cookeville museums manager, said. “Her knowledge of our collection and pursuit of excellence made her an easy choice for the award nomination.”
Ashley McKee, Cookeville museums education specialist, agreed.
“She is definitely making a difference here,” she said. “She’s very valuable.”
While all of the museum’s artifacts are in good order now, they weren’t always that way. Storage room organization was a huge need when the museum moved to its current location at 40 E. Broad St. in 2007. That’s when Judy Duke, Cookeville museums manager at the time, enlisted White, a special education teacher who retired a couple of years earlier from Cornerstone Middle School in Baxter, to help out.
“The job I was given was to take care of all the stuff that had literally been dumped in there,” White said. “It took me 10 years to do it, but they keep finding more things for me to do. I’m never going to be finished!”
Was it an interest in history that led White to spend most of her days archiving artifacts?
“I was more interested in helping the museum get off the ground,” she said. “It was just starting at that time, and I was retired and needed things to do.”
It was also a great opportunity for the Detroit, Mich., native to learn more about the hometown of her husband, Jim White, who also volunteers at the museum from time to time and even contributed his Vietnam War navigator uniform to its collection.
These days, White typically volunteers three days a week at the Cookeville History Museum and Cookeville Depot Museum, both of which are part of the City of Cookeville’s Department of Leisure Services.
“I can always find things to do,” she said.
When White isn’t at the museum, she also volunteers at the Putnam County Library’s used book store. Additionally, she serves on the Imagination Library board of directors and previously chaired Friends of the History Museum.
She encourages others to find volunteer positions in their community – something they really enjoy.
“The museum is a great place to be,” she said, noting that both the Cookeville History Museum and Cookeville Depot Museum are always looking to train new volunteers, or docents, who work at least one three-hour shift per month. “Jobs” include anything from greeting visitors to, as in the case of White, archiving and research.
“Because Joanne is so unique, she works with us behind the scenes,” McKee said. “But we have several different kinds of volunteers.”
It’s an opportunity for people – retirees in particular – to get out of the house and meet people, White said.
“It’s fun,” she said. “It really is.”
Anyone interested in volunteering should call Thompson at 931-520-5455 or 931-528-8570.
The Cookeville History Museum is open Tuesday through Saturday, 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Admission is free.