Museum’s outreach programs are Wilson’s pride

CLEWISTON — The Clewiston Museum began several outreach programs under Director Butch Wilson, who’s leaving the position after almost 12 years there at the end of this month.

One of the popular programs won’t be continued. Presently, he says, there isn’t a plan in place for how to keep conducting birders tours and outings to the South Florida Water Management District’s Stormwater Treatment Areas 5 and 6 as Mr. Wilson had been doing in conjunction with the Hendry/Glades Chapter of the Audubon Society.

Lake Okeechobee News/Chris Felker
Clewiston Museum Director Butch Wilson takes artifacts from the era when large mammals roamed Florida to his school presentations.

Since he’s been director, Mr. Wilson explained, “the technology has really changed and influences libraries, as you know, plus it has a big influence on the community. Because of the technology, a lot of people don’t leave their homes, they don’t venture out, they don’t explore; so the board has been very generous. I jokingly tell them that the only thing I hold against them is that they gave me too much rope — enough rope to hang myself.

“So we started an outreach program.” And it has a long, long reach, which is necessary to justify a grant the museum receives.

He presents six different programs to each class he visits. “I speak to 20 students for each one, so that’s an audience of 120.” Mr. Wilson said that during 2018, his audiences totaled 6,000 by that calculation; so that works out to somewhere around 50 presentations he gave — or almost one every week.

But it doesn’t stop there: Some classes come in for field trips. “The other thing is that word over the years has gotten out and, consequently, I go to other schools; or they stop by; or they’ll call me to maybe give a presentation on the way to a destination. So then I’ll do one on the bus to the Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum … and I used to do a lot of presentations on the east and west coasts because I get calls from organizations as far north as Sebring and for local clubs and organizations, community events, etc. For one person, this is a very busy job.”

The Chamber of Commerce, which shares the museum building and whose staff act as receptionists and clerks for both organizations, operates a series of tours during the winter season in conjunction with U.S. Sugar Corp. Called the Raisin’ Cane and Sugarland tours, they’re guided by two dedicated employees and part of each includes time in the museum viewing exhibits and/or using the theater.

Lake Okeechobee News/Chris Felker
Clewiston Chamber tour guide Bobby Pearce informs tour-takers about sugar industry history using some of the museum’s exhibits.

“I don’t get really too involved with their groups,” said Mr. Wilson, “but they do come in in the mornings, and as a courtesy to the people coming in, a lot of times I’ll walk back where the fossils are and engage the people about the fossils and answer their questions because that’s really not part of the Sugarland tours. That’s not the guides’ expertise, so I try to fill in some spaces. So for the most part, I steer clear because that’s their baby.”

Those tours have been very popular and successful, and they keep the Clewiston Museum/Chamber of Commerce building a very busy place during the school year and, particularly, tourist season in the region.

Mr. Wilson particularly enjoys interacting with the schoolchildren he visits and gives his historical and cultural presentations to, using a Power Point show and also bringing his “props.”

“I bring so many artifacts, genuine artifacts, and I let these kids actually hold these artifacts. This would probably be frowned on by museum curators because you’re not supposed to do that; but, I’m planting a seed. I’m putting these kids, they’re touching history, and it makes it come alive for them.”

He listed some of the favorite things he’s done:
• He’ll sometimes take a real, black powder muzzleloader that is a Hawkins replica of the type of bigger gun used on the 19th century Lewis & Clark expedition of the Louisiana Territory and later during the Indian Wars. “At the end, I have a powder horn and I’ll time them as to how fast they can go through the routine of loading the gun, and whoever has the lowest time … I give the winner a replica of a Spanish coin,” he said.
• When he talks about the early Spanish explorers and the Seminole Indians, he produces a battle uniform “I have Spanish mail armor that I purchased,” he said, and he lets them put it on.
• “When I talk about the early Spanish explorers and the Native American living here, they get to pull back a real bow, and hold a crossbow.”
• “For the cow hunters, I had a hundred-year-old saddle. I had it on a dowel (saddle rack), and they actually stepped up on it. And then with the lasso, they got the rope.
• “And, of course, I used to do the prehistoric presentation. I would go to Peace River, fill up about five buckets, 5-gallon buckets, with material; then take it and pour it out and let it dry. Then, at the end of a presentation, I would take a cup of that and pour it on a plate and give each kid a plate, and let them look for fossils. They enjoyed that.
• “And then for the raising cane tour, on the history of the sugar industry in Florida, I have a real sugar mill, manually operated, that I ordered from Brazil, and the kids grind cane.

“You see these kids come alive, and it’s just connected me so much with the kids and the faculties at these schools,” Mr. Wilson said, adding that while he loved this aspect of the job, he’s looking forward to slowing down in retirement.

This month is his last on the job full-time and, although season is turning to Florida’s seemingly endless summer, he doesn’t slow down much even while museum traffic dwindles. May/June/July is also the time when the “fiscal year” for grants is flipping and applications must be filed for renewal.

“I’m still busy. I already conducted eight tours or field trips (in May), have two more next week, actually will go to the Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki, too. Our two museums have a great relationship through these things we do together. The director there and I are friends, so when they have special programs, I always try to participate,” he said.
When it comes down to his best memories, though, “it’s the outreach programs — that’s where our memories are at.”

He couldn’t pick a best day ever, he said. “That would be difficult to do because I’ve done so many things.”

He does remember fondly the archaeological digs he’s been out on. And one very special time was when the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and South Florida Water Management District let him do some tours at Lake Okeechobee.

“One on the dike never been done. They actually allowed me to take a bus up on the Herbert Hoover Dike, and I did that until they started the dike restoration. That was exhilarating, and we’d ride to Lake Harbor on the dike.”

The program that won’t continue unless they can find someone else to take it over is the birders’ tours of the SFWMD’S STAs 5 and 6. “They’ve since canceled that because I’m leaving.”

Mr. Wilson and his wife already have sold their home locally and will move to the Gulf Coast, near Bradenton.

He said he’s proud that he leaves the museum “a particularly stable institution.

“I think that this museum — and I’ve always felt this way — has so much potential. A lot is going to rest on who takes this position and what their outlook is. There’s so much that could be done.”

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