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Posted on: June 12, 2020

Teen happy to volunteer at Cookeville’s museums

Corbin Dardene at the Cookeville History Museum

COOKEVILLE – Volunteering at a museum has its perks.

Last fall, for example, Corbin Dardenne suited up as a Ghostbuster for Night at the Museums. His job was to chase “ghosts” out of the Cookeville History and Cookeville Depot museums and monitor their behavior as they shared their creepy stories with visitors along Broad Street.

“It was a lot of fun,” the 2020 Cookeville High School graduate said.

Dardenne has volunteered at other events as well, including the history museum’s Pioneer Day History Hike and various exhibit openings. But usually visitors will find him on a typical Saturday greeting visitors and answering questions. It’s something he’s been doing at both museums since his junior year of high school.

“I’ve always loved museums,” he said. “When I had an opportunity to actually get inside one and see how it worked, I was excited and happy to volunteer.”

Dardenne is one of several docents – that is, trained volunteers – in Cookeville’s museums.

He decided one day after school to stop by the Cookeville Depot and talk with museums manager Beth Thompson to find out how he could get involved.

“I wasn’t doing anything else so I thought I might as well learn something,” he said.

Thompson couldn’t be more pleased.

“Corbin has been a breath of fresh air, not simply owing to his youth, but his attitude is better than 99 percent of people you’ll meet of any age,” Thompson said. “Corbin also seems to have an innate love of history. His mom told us that when he was a young child and the family would visit a new city, rather than ask about the amusement parks or other attractions, Corbin would want to know if there was a museum in town.”

Dardenne appreciates the opportunity to be surrounded by so much local history – photos, artifacts, artwork and so much more.

He’s also enjoyed all the chats with museum visitors.

“I’ve talked to a lot of people who have connections to the exhibits we’ve had,” he said. “They come in and tell me about their experiences.”

One of Dardenne’s favorite exhibits was last summer’s “I Spy Cookeville,” which featured picture riddles and hands-on activities for all ages. Another was “Cookeville Crazy Quilters: Still Crazy About Quilts After 30 Years,” also in 2019.

“The quilt exhibit was cool because they actually had people come in and do demonstrations,” he said. “So I learned about the process.”

The docent program attracts a wide range of participants, from teens like Dardenne to retirees.

All of them bring something special.

“The wonderful thing about our docent program is there is room for everyone,” Thompson said. “Not everyone wants to put on a Ghostbuster suit and run up and down Broad Street on a Saturday night in the line of duty, but Corbin and his buddy Josh Brewer sure enjoyed it.”

Of course, Dardenne and the other docents weren’t able to do the volunteer work they love during the 10-week period the museums were closed for COVID-19 precautions. Now that they’ve reopened, he’s anxious to return.

Dardeene believes the history museum and depot serve an important purpose in the community. He’s particularly fond of the historic depot, which was built in 1909 and is on the National Register of Historic Places.

“It’s good to know the history – just to see where we came from and how much we’ve progressed,” he said.

The depot is filled with Tennessee Central Railway artifacts and an HO scale replica of Cookeville’s Westside in 1955. Outside, visitors can see a 1913 Baldwin steam engine, cabooses and track cars.

The history museum features temporary exhibits and collections in its front gallery as well as permanent displays throughout the rest of the building that promote the history of Cookeville and Putnam County.

“It’s a great place,” Dardenne said. “If you’ve just moved here or you’re passing through or if you’ve lived here a long time and have never been to the museum, it’s a great opportunity to see the history of this town. There’s honestly so much that’s happened here. It’s kind of cool to see.”

Both museums are open Tuesday through Saturday from 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Admission is free.

While Dardenne appreciates the past, he – like all recent high school graduates – is looking to the future. He is considering attending Western Carolina University, possibly to major in history.

But before that time comes, you may find him this summer at the depot or history museum. He welcomes visitors to come in and talk to him.

“I am very happy to have had this opportunity,” he said. “I’ve brought a bunch of friends, and they’ve enjoyed it too. I wish I could have done it sooner.”

Anyone interested in learning more about the docent program should call 528-8570 or email bthompson@cookeville-tn.gov.

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