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Caretaker of HISTORY

PHOTO PROVIDED Gary Parks, executive director of the Taber Museum, stands in the museum’s storage area that houses the area’s treasured past.

As the executive director of The Taber Museum in Williamsport, Gary Parks is charged with being the caretaker of our region’s history. It is a vital job that comes with great responsibility and many to-do lists.

Parks supervises the daily operations of the museum, acts as editor of the bi-monthly newsletter and the yearly journal, writes grants, and develops much of the programming and exhibits which vary from year to year. “I rely on a talented and professional staff,” Parks said. “Namely, Kim Taylor, Scott Sagar, Anne Persun, Patty Bowman, Casey Haas and Marvin Turner. Our Board of Governors is a ‘roll up the sleeves’ Board.” He added, “And we have great volunteers who make my work easier.”

Busy, yes, but no matter what he’s doing at the Museum, he always enjoys meeting visitors who stop in.

The Taber Museum chronicles the history of north central Pennsylvania, from American Indian occupation through 21st century industry and life. It includes an American Indian gallery, a fine and decorative arts gallery, the Shempp Model Train exhibit, with over 300 toy trains, and period rooms depicting life from the 1700s through the 1900s. 

As part of the Lycoming County Historical Society, the Taber Museum is named for Thomas Taber, who made a significant donation in 1999, allowing for the expansion of the original facility. To keep things fresh, exhibits change often. A recent popular exhibit featured motorcycles. The museum also includes a local history and genealogy research library. 

Born and raised in Maryland, Parks began his professional education at Towson University. “[I intended] to become a world-famous botanist,” Parks admitted, “But after cutting up a cat to study musculature in Vertebrate Zoology and struggling through Organic Chemistry, I changed my mind.” 

He then began American studies courses. His first job was editorial assistant for the Passenger and Immigrations Lists Index and a genealogical indexer. “I also worked for Genealogical Publishing Company and that resulted in a transcription of the 1820 Census of Maryland and Washington D.C. Imagine transcribing the names John Q. Adams and Francis S. Key,” Parks remarked.

Next was a master’s degree in public history at UNC Greensboro, the position of archivist/librarian in Freehold, NJ, and director of Slifer House in Lewisburg. Parks finally arrived at the Taber in 1992.

Parks acknowledges a strong influence in fine and decorative arts from his maternal grandmother, who shared family stories and artifacts. A needlework sampler depicting Adam and Eve, the tree of knowledge and a serpent, made by Parks’ great-great-great grandmother, was always a favorite. It now holds a place of honor in his 1813 Federalist home in Winfield, PA. He houses 100 samplers of various subjects and time periods. In that interest, Parks is a graduate of Winterthur Institute and Victorian Society Summer Schools.

Thousands of items are displayed in the museum and archived ranging from guns to purses. “We always have a dire need for more space,” said Parks. All items have been inventoried and checklists created, so the public can research their interests.

Parks takes his role at the museum very seriously. He said, “We are the stewards of the County’s history and heritage. Each artifact represents an individual or family who contributed to the richness of Lycoming County. We treat each item with respect and care.”

The Taber Museum hours are Tues-Fri: 9:30-4; Sat: 11-4 and through October, Sundays, 1-4. Watch for Mr. Parks; he’ll surely be there doing something.

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