Father Tim McRee and Patrick Willis
Patrick Willis (right), an intern from the graduate program in history at Western, and Father Tim McRee, head of Canton's Historical Commission, look over some of the artifacts from the collection of historical items in Canton's Visitor Center.

CULLOWHEE – When it comes time to tell the story of record-high floodwaters that devastated the town of Canton in 2004, the municipality's museum will be able to add its own page about water damage to the collection of historical items in the Visitor Center. 

Helping to assess that damage is Patrick Willis, an intern from the graduate program in history at Western Carolina University. Willis is continuing the work of a previous intern from Western, Heather Cyre. 

Cyre started an inventory of the museum's collection, computerized its records for the first time, and helped improve the way exhibits are displayed, said Father Tim McRee, rector of St. Andrew's Episcopal Church and head of Canton's Historical Commission. In January, Willis began cataloguing artifacts from an off-site storage area, checking for flood damage to items in the lower level of the museum and creating designs for new exhibits.

“We've got a good little local museum in Canton,” said McRee, who worked as a museum curator and historic site manager in Catawba County for years. “The professional assistance provided by Western's interns is making it better. We hope and pray this arrangement with Western will go on for years.”  

The interns' work at the Canton museum is mutually beneficial, McRee said, because the students get to work on real projects, and the museum enjoys the benefit of their expertise. 

Willis, who lives just minutes from the museum, would agree. “I'm looking forward to helping to better my town,” he said. “I think a lot of people overlook their local history and the importance of their local stories. You feel closer to your neighbors when you understand you share this common history.”

Willis, a 1998 graduate of Riverside High in Durham and 2002 graduate of Duke University, intends to continue working in museums after he completes his master's degree at Western. He is especially interested in local, North Carolina and Southern history.

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Last modified: Thursday, January 20, 2005
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