‘This has been my life’: Fletcher eager for younger person to become director of Quincy Museum

Barbara Fletcher

Barbara Fletcher stands in one of the first-floor rooms in the Newcomb-Stilwell Mansion, home of the Quincy Museum. Fletcher is leaving the position as director of the museum after nearly 20 years. | David Adam

QUINCY — Barbara Fletcher says it’s time for fresh ideas for the Quincy Museum at 1601 Maine.

Fletcher, 63, the director of the museum since June 2004, told the museum’s board on Dec. 3 of her intentions to retire. She said she will stay as director until her replacement is found, and she’ll also stay as long as necessary for her replacement to learn the ropes.

“I’ve been here almost 20 years, and there are all kinds of new ideas about how to do exhibits and how to bring in younger people with technology,” she said. “I’m 20 years out of school. I keep hearing technology, technology, technology. There’s got to be a way to bring in the younger crowd. A person with a younger mindset with more of a technology background might be exactly what this museum needs. 

“The way I was brought up, exhibits are supposed to tell a story using objects. When you get away from using objects, there’s no point in having a museum, right? That’s what a museum is. It is a collection of objects that are intended to tell a story. Now I’m not saying that this old dog can’t learn new tricks, but the learning curve is a little steeper. Maybe we need a younger pair of eyes.”

The 13-person board is starting the process to replace Fletcher. President Barbara Newman hopes a new director can be on board this spring.

“When Barb announced her retirement, we were very happy about that for her, but it kind of put us in a tight spot,” Newman said. “We want to thank her for 20 wonderful years of stewardship with the Quincy Museum. Fortunately for us, she has graciously consented to stay on in a part-time capacity and help with the transition.

“It’s going to be a longer process than I think any of us would like to have, but being selective and picking the right person is really important in the long run.”

Fletcher came to Quincy from the Illinois State Military Museum in Springfield. Her career began at the Illinois State Museum in 1998, where she was an archaeological research assistant. She replaced Steve Adams, who resigned to work on his doctorate after serving as the director in Quincy for nine years.

Fletcher said part of the reason she was chosen by the Quincy Museum board was because of her background in archaeology, Native American studies and public history. The museum was founded by Dr. James Reed in 1965 in the Indian Mounds area and was known as the Erroke Indian Museum. 

(NOTE: There was no such thing as an Erroke Indian tribe. Fletcher said the word “Erroke” was made from the first two letters of Reed’s three children — Erin, Robin and Kevin.)

“At that time, they could still display human remains,” Fletcher said. “You walked around and you saw the burials and the materials around them. They had the order of the Eagle Boy Scouts who helped run the museum and did the tours and ran the gift shop.”

The museum then was moved to Quinsippi Island in 1970 and named the Quincy Indian Museum. It eventually moved to its current location in 1980 in the former Newcomb-Stilwell Mansion, which previously was used as a dormitory for male and female students at Quincy College.

Fletcher says taking care of a historic home like the mansion is more than a job.

“This has been my life for the last 20 years,” she said. “I hate to put it that way, because it sounds trite, but as the executive director, I take care of everything. The security system, the plumbing, the heating … if the roof starts to leak, I may be up on the roof making a patch. I clean the gutters, at least the ones I can reach. If the basement leaks, I’m the one down there mopping it up. If a bat comes in the building at three in the morning, I’m the one who gets called.

“For the last 20 years, this has been like a second home. Sometimes I spent more time here during the course of a day than I did in my own home. I think I know every inch of this place.”

Fletcher will stay busy in retirement. She’s a member of the Adams County Board and chairs the Public Health and Safety Committee, which oversees the sheriff’s department, the coroner’s and the EMS and ambulance service. She’s the chair of the Adams County Emergency Telephone System Board.

She’s also the senior vice commander of American Legion Post 37, and she is a member of the honor guard which performs at military funerals.

“I’m a disabled military veteran, and some of the physical demands here are getting a little much,” she said. “We do some all-day events where I, as the executive director, have to be everywhere all the time. Some of those are a little taxing on the body, and I find the recovery time is a lot longer than it used to be.

“Now I’d like to be able to spend more time doing those other things. Right now, when I do a military funeral in the middle of the day, I’m doing it on my lunch hour. I rush over there and make it just in time, then rush back and worry about being back (at the museum) in time.”

Fletcher called her time at the museum “a great run.” She says she’ll never forget when she moved to Quincy on Memorial Day weekend in 2004 and was greeted by members of the museum board who helped her unpack.

“I’ve enjoyed the heck out of it,” she said. “I’ve had great volunteers. I’ve met wonderful people. This town has embraced me and been kind to me. They continue to welcome me, and that means a lot. Quincy is my home now.”

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