OTTUMWA — Sue Parrish of Ottumwa will have an historical moment March 31.

She’s had several of those as registrar/coordinator of the Wapello County Historical Museum, but that day will be a hallmark event. It’s retirement day.

Parrish is retiring to pursue “the many things (she’s) wanted to do,” while her health is still good. “Time is so fleeting,” she added.

The past few years have emphasized loss of time and family. Within one year, her two grandchildren, ages 8 and 11, “lost two grandfathers” and one great-grandfather, she said. The following year the other great-grandfather died.

Parrish’s husband, Richard, was one of the grandfathers. He died Jan. 22, 2003, due to coronary artery disease.

“Because of these losses, I want to be able to take off and do things with my daughter, her husband and my grandkids. I want to spend time with my family,” she said.

Parrish claims she’s “a homebody and won’t move,” but she would like to travel with her daughter and cousins to Great Britain and Scandinavia. Both her parents have Swedish and English roots.

Other travel plans include a three-week tour by car to the Black Hills and Custer Park, both in South Dakota, and William Randolph Hearst’s mansion in California. It’s a way for her to add history and family to her desire to travel.

Hobbies such as sewing, reading, and decorating are also on her to-do list and so is daydreaming.

Since Jan. 30, 1990, Parrish has worked at the museum, which was very different back then. She started as a “museum associate,” a position funded by a six-month grant.

“I was hired for six months and stayed 16 years,” she said.

Her longevity there should be no surprise. Parrish has had a love of history since childhood. When she was 10 years old, a great aunt told her she should teach the subject. Later in life she “made straight A’s” in the classroom and “didn’t stray far from (history).”

When she started as an associate, the museum’s collection wasn’t organized.

“They had displays but very little understanding of conservation and preservation,” Parrish said. “On top of that, the collection grew.”

Foremost in Parrish’s mind was “making the museum as professional as possible.” She believes Wapello County has one of the best county-level museums in Iowa. Few are open five days a week with staff and visits are by appointment only, even in towns Ottumwa’s size, according to Parrish.

“Yet, (our museum) is an underutilized facility,” she said. “I feel I’ve accomplished many things as best as I could with the funds available.”

And, she has gone beyond her duties many times. For example, in one exhibit of the early 20th century, there was a beautiful but very fragile dress. It fell apart when she tried to put it on a mannequin.

“I spent most of a day sewing on it so we could hang it on the form,” she said.

Parrish’s favorite project was photo preservation and she’s “pleased with what was accomplished.” She loves old photos and stories and the museum’s photos “were in such pitiful condition.”

“Some of my best friends are dead people I’ve never met,” she said and laughed. “They have friendly faces and I know we would have been friends.”

Parrish said she has “loved it” at the museum and has made many “wonderful friends” during her tenure.

“I never had a staff problem, and received tremendous support from the board and staff,” she said.

Parrish wants to continue to write “Remember When” for the Courier and will visit friends, especially elderly ones and shut-ins. Many are former museum volunteers.

And, she will still volunteer some time to the museum’s photographs.

“I can’t leave my dead friends. Besides, I know how hard it is to find volunteers,” she added.

On April 4, Rusty Corder will give a program at the museum and be introduced as Parrish’s successor.

Cindy Toopes can be reached at (641) 683-5376 or via e-mail at


Who: Sue Parrish of Ottumwa, registrar/coordinator

Where: The Wapello County Historical Museum, 210 W. Main St.

What: Farewell reception, 2-3:30 p.m. March 26


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