NaVee Vernon, founder of Summit County Historical Museum, retires
Summit County Historical Museum8 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Friday Summit County Courthouse, 60 N. Main St., Coalville 435-336-3200 or summmitcounty.org
In the old part of the Summit County Courthouse, across from the county manager’s office, there is a flight of stairs that leads to the county’s history.
The dozen or so basement rooms that make up the Summit County Historical Museum are chock-full of exhibits highlighting the pioneer heritage of the area, with displays on historical industries, influential residents and the history of the area’s municipalities.
NaVee Vernon created the museum in her role as the Summit County historian, which she held for 15 years before retiring in March.
“I can get bored in museums faster than anyone,” Vernon said. “That’s why I like this one: It’s not boring.”
The museum is nearly bursting at the seams, with exhibits working their way up the stairs and into every closet but one, which Vernon has been trying to pry from the maintenance staff for years.
“I’d still be fighting him for it, too” Vernon said.
County Manager Tom Fisher lauded Vernon’s efforts and called her experience “irreplaceable.”
“NaVee did just a spectacular job documenting agricultural history, pioneer history — the history of Summit County,” Fisher said.
When she got the job in 2003, the Courthouse basement was the dusty home to storage space and a few offices.
Three months later, in time for the county’s 150th anniversary, Vernon had moved in some artifacts from her own collection and had started receiving donations from around the community.
“Everyone was so generous,” Vernon recalled.
It’s no coincidence the community rallied to help Vernon start the museum. She was born and raised in Coalville and her great-great-grandfather William Henderson Smith was one of the city’s founders.
Vernon said she was able to put together a museum in two or three basement rooms in time for the 150th birthday party in January 2004, which she also helped plan. Over the years, the museum has grown and grown, and Vernon said she’s never refused a donation.
“I didn’t know where to put it all,” Vernon said, but she found a way to make do.
“I’m one of those people who just tears into things,” Vernon said. “Sometimes I don’t even measure.”
That might put pressure on Vernon’s successor, whom the county has yet to hire.
Fisher said over the past 15 years, the museum has accumulated a “vast” collection of artifacts, pictures and documents that in many cases are not archived, catalogued or digitized. That’s one of the factors the county will consider in hiring the next historian to ensure the museum remains “viable.”
Vernon said she’s been personally assured the county will keep the museum going. She said her biggest fear is betraying the trust that her neighbors placed in her when they gave her their family artifacts.
Fisher reiterated the guarantee, saying there are “no budget changes” that would affect the program.
“We are going to have a history program, going to have employees around it, going to have a museum, those are going to happen,” Fisher said.
While Vernon recognizes the importance of cataloguing the collection, she hopes the next person will be more than just a “scanner.”
“You don’t want to lose your history, you don’t want to lose your tradition,” she said. “I want a storyteller.”
That might be what the county saw in Vernon when she was hired.
She remembers the interview committee being “leery” of her at first, and she was cognizant that she lacked any formal training as a historian. What she did have, though, was an inimitable sense of the history of the place, something she thinks is in her blood.
When she was interviewed, she brought with her a photography project her daughter had put together for a college course — it earned an “A,” Vernon said — that focused on the Vernons’ neighbors, a hardworking farming family that had been in the area for generations.
She showed the committee the photograph and said, “This is what history is all about: the people.”
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