By Mike Steely
If you are a graduate or teacher from a Knoxville or Knox County school I’ll bet you don’t know about the Knox County Museum of Education. It’s in the Sarah Simpson Professional Development and Technology Center at 801 Tipton Avenue, just a few blocks off Chapman Highway.
“Take a Walk Down Memory Lane” is the theme of the museum, and, even with their limited days and hours of operation, the growing collection of all things Knoxville and Knox County related to schools has visitors. The visitors may spend as much time in the museum as they wish.
More than a dozen such visitors were browsing in the museum when The Focus recently visited. They hailed from around the area and from other states, all of them a graduate of local schools. One had heard of the museum while in Dallas.
On Mondays, Tuesdays and Thursdays from 11 a.m. until 4 p.m., you’ll find the largest collection of everything “school” in the region there. The museum not only displays collections of different schools but also does research and documentation on events, trends and changes that affect education.
Everyone is encouraged to contribute to the museum collection and the historical narratives. Everything from past high school yearbooks to displays about famous graduates, principals, various school histories, staff, central office personnel, and even items like school sweaters is featured at the Knox County Museum of Education.
The museum’s origin can be traced back to a conversation between two friends, Ms. Benna van Vuuren and Beecher Clapp. The two realized that there was no one place that had a collection or information about the current or former Knox County schools. That was back in 2005.
Former Superintendent Earl Hoffmeister suggested van Vuuren call Sue Boyer, a supervisor with the school system and they worked with Roy Mullins, assistant to then superintendent Dr. Charles Lindsey. The museum first opened the next year in the Historic Knoxville High School. In 2013 the museum moved to the Tipton Avenue location. The building that now houses the museum, in Room 100, had been the home of South Junior and Senior High School as well as South Middle School, from 1937 until 1991.
“We collect and preserve and everything is accessible. It’s relaxed and noisy,” Ms. van Vuuren, Museum Director, said. “We’re trying to get everything cataloged, indexed, and such to move the museum forward.”
Mrs. van Vuuren has been a teacher, elementary supervisor, principal of the old Amherst School, a central office staffer, and started Knox County’s “Reading is Fundamental” program. She indicated that she would like to see the museum so well organized that, in the future, someone else can direct the facility.
Volunteers are always welcome for filing, typing or creating displays. When The Focus asked volunteer Jody Davis, “What’s the most prized procession in the museum?” Davis said it was van Vuuren herself.
To find out how to volunteer or donate to the museum, you can call the museum at 579-8264, ext 1072, or email Benna.firstname.lastname@example.org.