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Turning a page of her history

A museum director, who took the job without any prior museum experience, will soon retire. It's not hard, she says.

Published September 19, 2006

PALM HARBOR - Winona Jones has been director of the North Pinellas Historical Museum for nearly eight years, doing a nonpaying job that includes supervising other volunteers, cataloging photos, giving tours and, some days, mopping the floors.

But she is retiring Sept. 30, and finding a new director has not been easy.

"I think the whole title scares people to death, and, you know, they can do what I do," said Jones, 78. "Come in with your cleaning cloths, your brooms and mops. If you're willing to talk to people and encourage them to learn the history, then that's what it takes."

Jones, a fourth-generation Palm Harbor resident, has been the museum's director since it opened in 1998. She was a charter member of the Palm Harbor Historical Society, which oversees the museum on the corner of Curlew and Belcher roads. Then she was elected to the top job.

"It wasn't that I knew much about running a museum, but I'd been a school librarian for 30 years and owned a business before that," Jones said.

Now, there are no takers.

"It has been hard to find someone to replace her," said Carole Jackson, publicity coordinator for the Palm Harbor Historical Society. "At the historical museum we've been asking people for two to three years to take over, and we just can't find anybody to step forward."

Jones had planned to step down last year, Jackson said, but stayed on and on - and on and on, when no one stepped up - "until she said there has to be a time when she retires."

Thursday afternoon, Jones was at the museum identifying and filing photos from the early days of Curlew Grammar School, back when there was a Curlew Grammar School.

When asked if she was absolutely certain it was "time," Jones answered quickly.

"Oh yes," she said.

For a while, Jones has pondered writing a history about her family and her husband Charley's family: how they came to the area around 1860, and what they did afterward. Last year she published her first book, Around Palm Harbor, a pictorial history of unincorporated North Pinellas.

Jones also had a bad fall last year, affecting her ability to move around. One of her legs is particularly bothersome, she said.

"There are days when I just don't want to get up and spend my day walking and being on my feet all day, things like that," Jones said. "I used to be a Pinellas County track champion. I ran. Everywhere. I used to run and jump. And now I pay for it today."

Jones said the museum would benefit from someone who is energetic, who would do outreach in schools and businesses and get more volunteers. The museum is generally open on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays.

"Time for new blood, new ideas, and new ways in providing that history," she said. "We have a rich history that people have no idea. All they see is the roads and the cars. They don't know when it was citrus groves."

But getting someone to replace Jones' passion may prove even more difficult.

"She's truly a hard worker, of course, and she loves that museum," said Jackson of the Palm Harbor Historical Society. "The way I look at it, it's her second home."

[Last modified September 18, 2006, 23:07:28]

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