NAME: Gwendolen Raley
TITLE: Museum and Heritage Tourism Director FOR: Indiana Landmarks
SINCE: January 2008
YOUR JOB DUTIES INCLUDE: 1) Directing operations at Morris-Butler House; 2) Directing Indianapolis Heritage Tourism initiatives including downtown walking tours, motorcoach tours, and special building tours such as the Indiana Landmarks Center, Morris-Butler House, and Catacombs tours at the Indianapolis City Market; and 3) Managing a corps of ~120 volunteers and docents who support these experiences.
Currently, I am most proud to be a part of revisioning Morris-Butler House and contributing to the process of reinvigorating this meaningful historic place to ensure its longevity and sustainability in the 21st century. The process has been long, including grant writing, visits with consultants, and abundant research.
My intent in all projects in which I am involved is to infuse them all with meaning and make them enriching experiences along the way while producing enriching experiences for people. From creating an open, positive work environment and creating fun and unique docent training experiences to providing tours to unexpected places and infusing quirkiness into all of the experiential products we have, I seek to make them memorable and enriching.
I am also proud to have grown and improved Indiana Landmarks’ docent program, improving retention of new trainees from less than 25% to more than 75% since 2008, thus eliciting kudos from docents and recognition from other organizations.
WHAT YOU LOVE ABOUT WHAT YOU DO: The people and interacting with the public! Especially enjoyable is working with volunteers, talking to guests and visitors, and networking with others in the community.
WORST PART OF WHAT YOU DO: That there isn’t enough time in the day to get everything done!
HOW YOU DEFINE PERSONAL SUCCESS: Personal success for me is doing something I love and connecting with people while doing it. I enjoy watching projects unfold from the ground up—planting the seed, nurturing the project, and watching it grow and transform into the end result.
ADVICE TO SOMEONE ELSE WHO WOULD LIKE TO DO WHAT YOU DO? Be flexible and versatile! Get involved with a variety of disciplines and organizations, and do whatever you can to get your name known widely. Look for needs and volunteer to fill those needs.
IF YOU WERE GRANTED ONE WISH RELATING TO YOUR JOB/CAREER/ORGANIZATION, WHAT WOULD IT BE? I wish that everyone had a passion for history and preservation.
WOULDN’T HAVE MADE IT TO WHERE YOU ARE WITHOUT: Divine intervention, a loving and supportive family, rock-solid friends (especially Jamie Brenner!), and perseverance. Chocolate and coffee have also played a big role.
WHAT MOTIVATES YOU? You know that feeling when you check off the last thing on your To-Do list? That satisfying feeling of accomplishment is what motivates me. Thus, I am constantly challenging myself to do new things and to never be bored.
WHO WERE/ARE YOUR MENTORS AND HOW DID THEY HELP? Dr. Elizabeth “Elee” Wood at IUPUI has been a professional mentor, assisting me over the last few years with professional challenges and with changing my perceptions of museums and their functions. The Indiana Landmarks volunteers with whom I have built relationships also help me develop in my profession and support my work.
WHAT SPARKED YOUR INTEREST IN HISTORY: My father Kent Raley took me to the Monroe County History Center in Bloomington, IN, when I was 5 years old. Inside was a pioneer cabin reconstruction in which I could play, and I became fascinated with how people from the past lived. My mother Merrie Raley has always curated and treasured our family heirlooms, and I grew up surrounded by antiques and items with sentimental value and history. My parents were formative in the regard. A PBS special on King Tut and ancient Egypt that I saw when I was also around 5 years old also sparked an interest in how people have lived over time.
MOST INTERESTING BIT OF INDIANAPOLIS HISTORY YOU’VE ENCOUNTERED? During WWI, researchers discovered that malaria could cure syphilis of the brain, which was the most common cause of insanity at that time. In 1925, researchers accomplished this at Central State Hospital in Indianapolis but discovered that the fever caused by malaria wasn’t what cured syphilis. Instead, the malaria triggered the immune system to produce a type of white blood cell that consumed both pathogens. Who knew?
YOU CAN HAVE DINNER WITH ANYONE FROM INDIANAPOLIS PAST? WHO & WHY? I would like to have dinner with the Governor’s Mansion Ghost Turkey…on my plate! In the 1830s, the Governor’s Mansion was built in the center of what is now Monument Circle. No governor actually lived in the house, and after a colorful existence for approximately 30 years, fell into dereliction. Legend has it that it was the first haunted house, often filled with dark shadows, horrific screams, and menacing thumping noises. As the legend grew, a group of young boys decided one November day to capture the spirit presumed to dwell within the house. One of the boys, Aaron Ohr, went inside to face the spirit to the awe of his friends. After much hullaballoo, the friends turned to run, leaving their friend Aaron to his most-certain horrid fate. They then heard the doors open and saw their friend Aaron standing there wrestling with an angry, giant wild turkey! Aaron’s family cooked the turkey and invited the whole town to celebrate the “unhaunting” of the Governor’s Mansion.
FAVORITE VIEW IN THE CITY? The 10th Street bridge over the canal looking south. I love seeing the combination of water, buildings, and trees in the landscape.
FAVORITE RESTAURANT IN INDIANAPOLIS? Saffron Café! Amazing Moroccan food with a beginning in Bloomington and a transplant to Indianapolis. It’s like going home to Bloomington each time I eat there.
FAVORITE HISTORY RELATED BOOK OR MOVIE? Indianapolis Then and Now by Nelson Price
COLLECT ANYTHING? Casts of the teeth of my family and friends.
FAVORITE QUOTE? “Do what you can, with what you have, where you are.” —Theodore Roosevelt

One response to “Heritage Steward: Gwendolen Raley”

  1. basil berchekas jr says:

    Professionals like her are exactly what drives the train here, and their caste of volunteers!

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