Batesville woman named one of state’s top volunteers

By Lisa Burnett Published January 9, 2014 at 12:00 a.m.
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PHOTO BY: Nick Hillemann

Twyla Gill Wright was recently nominated for the Henry Award, which is presented by the Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism to someone who has an outstanding volunteer spirit and has made a substantial contribution to the Arkansas tourism industry.

BATESVILLE — As visitors to the Old Independence Regional Museum peruse its offerings, they will most likely find Twyla Gill Wright in the midst of the museum’s collections.

She’s been a volunteer for the museum since its beginning, in 1998. This year, she’s been nominated for a 2014 Outstanding Volunteer Service Award, a part of the Henry Awards, presented by the Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism each year.

The Henry Awards honor Henri de Tonti, a 17th-century explorer considered one of the first “Arkansas Travelers.” The Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism recognizes outstanding efforts in eight categories each year, according to the department’s website.

Wright is the volunteer curator of exhibits at the Old Independence Regional Museum and has put in more than 5,000 hours of volunteer work for the museum.

“We started [working on the project] in 1991, and we didn’t have a museum at that time,” Wright said. “I was president of the Independence County Historical Society, and they wanted to start a museum. So I formed a planning committee.”

Wright said the committee had about 20 people, and they planned the museum for two years.

“Probably the best thing that happened with us was that none of us knew how to start a museum,” she said. “We didn’t know much about establishing or maintaining a museum, so we knew that we didn’t know. This was an advantage because sometimes when you think you know, you really don’t.”

After meeting with historical experts in the community, Wright said, in 1993 she became the founding board president of the Old Independence Regional Museum.

“We got our building by 1995, which was deeded to us when we had raised $400,000 in gifts and pledges,” Wright said. “We were able to do that in seven months.”

The Old Independence Regional Museum opened on Sept. 12, 1998, and Wright has been a mainstay of the facility since that day.

She served as interim director of the museum for the first partial year it was open,until a full-time director was hired.

Since then, she has filled in where she is needed, but now she is the curator of exhibits.

What keeps her coming back to the museum every day? She enjoys the people with whom she works.

“I really like to work with people so that we build a relationship within the museum,” she said. “I love all of the volunteers and the staff.”

It’s not just the people who keep Wright coming back to the Old Independence Regional Museum.

“I love to envision an exhibit, and then I have an exhibit team, and we can work together to create exhibits,” she said. “I have that creative outlet. I’ve been a writer for many years, and I bring that skill to the team.”

All but three people who work at the museum are unpaid. Wright said the volunteers and the staff work together to make the museum the best it can be.

“I like teamwork and putting the creative elements to work,” Wright said.

Wright said that when she found out she was one of the three nominees for the Outstanding Volunteer Service Award, she was out of town for the holidays.

“I didn’t know until I was in California, and I got an email from our board president, and she said, ‘You have been nominated as one of the three finalists,’” Wright said. “Unbeknownst to me, the staff here had nominated me.”

Wright will find out if she is a recipient of the award on March 11 at the 40th annual Arkansas Governor’s Conference on Tourism at the John Q. Hammons Convention Center in Rogers.

“If I [receive the award], we will showcase the museum to the state,” she said. “I’m not so interested in being featured as much as I am interested in something that I’ve given 20 years to to be featured. I’d love to showcase the Old Independence [Regional Museum].”

Staff writer Lisa Burnett can be reached at (501) 244-4307 or lburnett@arkansasonline.com.

Online Reporter Lisa Burnett can be reached at 501-378-3887 or lburnett@arkansasonline.com.

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