Plan afoot to reopen Lawrence E. Will Museum

BELLE GLADE — Belle Glade Rotary Club members were excited and pleased Nov. 12 when Cheryl Stein gave the group an update on renewed plans to reopen the Lawrence E. Will Museum of the Glades.

“Thank you, Cheryl, for joining us today. We look forward to visiting the museum in the new year,” they posted on their Facebook page Nov. 18.

Mrs. Stein, the new director, has taken the initiative to work with various people in trying to reopen the museum to the public. “Since it’s been closed for some time now, a lot of the exhibits that were loaned to the museum are no longer there, so I am slowly trying to pull things together,” she said in a phone interview Friday, Nov. 22.

Special to the Lake Okeechobee News/Courtesy of Belle Glade Rotary
The Rotary Club of Belle Glade hears a presentation Nov. 12 from Cheryl Stein, who is intent on reopening the Glades museum.

As most Glades residents know, Lawrence E. Will — son of northern Everglades pioneer Dr. Thomas E. Will — started the local archive with his own research, photographs and manuscripts about pioneer life and the culture of the area (he wrote six books). Nobody at the Rotary Club really needed to be brought up to speed on the history behind the man for whom the museum is named when they heard her presentation Nov. 12. She told them of her vision for its reorganization, focus and features.

Mrs. Stein explained: “The museum had been, not shut down, but just kind of closed for the lack of someone to have it open (Dorothy Block left as its curator at the end of 2018). So I’ve taught for 35 years — I am not a curator, I’m not an archaeologist, an anthropologist or any of those things, but I have a love for the Glades. And I want to make sure that people that are not from this area can see the importance of the Glades and our unique and interesting history.

“It’s like nowhere else in the world, that I know of, where we have the people we do, the things we do, and the history. It was swampland that was drained, so we literally started from swampland…”

She easily gets sidetracked into vignettes on the area’s fascinating history, and went on to tell about how Dr. Will had come to the area and the accomplishments of himself and his son, including his dream of establishing the Okeelanta settlement that since has passed into history.

Mrs. Stein said she will build on what the museum has and try to organize it better so that it will deliver lessons about all the aspects that make the Glades region one of the most anthropologically, culturally and ethnically colorful and diverse spots on Earth.

“You know, Belle Glade has such a unique and interesting history, and we want to kind of showcase the best of Belle Glade. We have an archaeological part to the museum, artifacts found from… they call them the People of the Water, the Indian tribe that lived here 2,500 years ago at least. And artifacts found in the Indian Mound area in Belle Glade, we have that in the museum. I’ve divided it into two, the archaeological aspect and then the Belle Glade history and culture, from the beginning of the pioneers who came to the area in the early, early 1900s and going through the farming…”

She has worked closely with staff of Discover Palm Beach County, the tourism marketing arm of the county government, including archaeologist Chris Davenport, whom she called “very, very knowledgeable.”

“My plan is to open in late December or early January. And we also have an art gallery that will feature the paintings of Donald Neal, who’s a local artist in BG, he paints ‘Trompe l’ oeil’ (French for ‘Fool the eye’) beautifully. Also, we have a lot of local artists and I want to make sure the gallery is there, you know, for children’s exhibits, local artists, local art groups so they all can showcase their artwork there, too. And (exhibits on) just the history of Belle Glade and what it was and where it is today.”

Mrs. Stein went on to say they have antique medical equipment donated by a nurse for many years in the region. “We have some farm equipment that was used in the early days of farming in the Glades for the archaeological artifacts section, and I want to do a tribute to veterans of the Glades — you know, just showcasing (local) people. We have a large group of football players that came from Belle Glade and Pahokee and went on to play college and pro ball, so I want to showcase them, too. It’s the people of the glades. It’s not just the stuff, but the people…”

Stay tuned for more about Mrs. Stein’s vision and the reopening of the Lawrence E. Will Museum of the Glades.

Chris Felker can be reached at cfelker@newszap.com.

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