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HISTORY’S WORKERS Docent prepares for new chapter

By SERINA MARSHALL Staff Writer

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For the past five years, if you walked into the Chester Inn Museum, one of the first faces you would see is Joe Spiker, the docent for the museum. How- ever, as of this month, Spiker is leaving behind his own past at the inn to venture into the future of a new opportunity teaching history at Walters State Community College in Morristown.

“I started at the inn in Au- gust of 2016 and I started here because I went to school for history,” Spiker said. “I would just routinely check local and national history sites, and I found the job posting here at the inn. It was old and had been up for a while, so I just cold emailed and was like ‘Hey, is this a thing? Is this still open?’ And it was. Sheer luck brought me here.”

Spiker said that history has always intrigued him, ever since he was a kid.

“I grew up in Jonesborough, so history was always around,” he said.

Spiker started at the muse- um as the head docent, which is a person who acts as a guide in a museum, in which he said his areas of responsibility included exhibits for the museum, programming and tours.

“I’ve worked on a lot of fun things,” Spiker said. “The first big project that I started when I got here was the History Happy Hour program, which we launched my first year here and it’s been going ever since. It’s really awesome.”

Just like many other venues, when the pandemic hit, the museum had to adapt and overcome, and that’s when video programming began through the Chester Inn and Heritage Alliance. One such way of teaching virtual history was through a drama called, “The Victorians,” in which Spiker and other members of the inn would dress in period pieces and perform history by way of silent movie perspective.

“It was a whim. Anne G’Fellers-Mason, who is the executive director of the Heritage Alliance, is just amazing,” Spiker said. “I came up with this idea like, hey what if we do this series showing how people would socially distance in the 1800s and do it like a silent film. And Anne was like ‘That sounds awesome! Do
it. Go for it!’ and I shot the first seven or eight episodes in one go and put them together. Then it just grew. It was pandemic programming.”

Spiker said he was excited to find out that schools in the area actually used their series of “The Victorians” to engage their history classes. And he thanks the Chester Inn and Mason for their allowance of his ideas.

Mason in turn thanks Spiker for what he brought to Jonesborough and the Chester Inn.

“Joe was with us for five years at the Chester Inn Museum. During that time, he really grew the museum through exhibits, new programs and a virtual component with our YouTube Channel,” Mason said. “He left an amazing foundation for our next Chester Inn site manager. He will certainly be missed.”

Though his time as head docent to the museum has come to a close, he is grateful for those that helped encourage him on his journey.

“Deb Montanti, who was our last executive director, I felt she was taking a giant risk on hiring me, but
it worked. She was awesome and she was very good at getting our ideas and letting us do them, like Anne,” Spiker said. “So, when Anne became director, she is really great at hearing our ideas and encouraging them. I cannot speak highly enough of Anne. She does so much and is so kind.”

Spiker also wants to acknowledge Megan Tewell, program director for the Heritage Alliance; President of the Board of Trustees for the Alliance, Gordon Edwards; museum employee, Jacob Simpson; and all the volunteers with the Chester Inn Museum and Heritage Alliance.

“We encourage each other, we support our ideas, we push each other. It’s an amazing environment to be in professionally,” Spiker said. “I will miss being around these people every day, but I am excited to see what is next for the museum and myself.”