Blankenship retires from Pioneer Museum of Alabama

Published 10:00 pm Thursday, September 25, 2008

Visions of golf balls were dancing in Keith Blankenship’s head Thursday as he sat among friends and accepted their congratulations as he enters the “retirement” phase of his life.

The board and staff of the Pioneer Museum of Alabama hosted a retirement luncheon for Blankenship and thanked him for his longtime commitment to the museum and a job well done.

Ten years ago, Blankenship followed the lead of his wife, Shirley, and became a volunteer at the Pioneer Museum of Alabama. And, two years ago, the couple took over the museum gift shop and became a more permanent personification of the museum.

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“Shirley was a volunteer at the museum and she thought that it would be something that I would enjoy,” Blankenship said. “I started going to the museum more because of her and the more I was there, the more I enjoyed it and the more I realized the importance of the museum to our community and to its many visitors.”

Blankenship became a volunteer at special events and then on a more regular basis.

“I worked in the gift shop and helped on the grounds,” Blankenship. “Volunteering at the museum was something that Shirley and I enjoyed together.”

When Blankenship was approached about taking over the management of the gift shop,” he didn’t have to think more than twice.

“I was familiar with the gift shop and Shirley was very involved in programs at the museum,” he said. “She does spinning and weaving and conducts Native American hands-on history programs. So, it was something that I thought that we could do together and enjoy.”

For Blankenship, the Pioneer Museum of Alabama became more than a place to hang his hat. It became a place where friends gathered to share stories and swap …. perhaps half-truths from time to time.

“I really enjoy visiting with the people who come to the museum,” Blankenship said. “And there’s a group of regulars who have become close friends and I look forward to seeing them real often. People like Grover Poole, Gordon Bennett, Stan Russell, Neil Thrasher, Mac Holmes, Louis Glayre, and Elton and Donna Cowart just to name a few.

“And, I’ve enjoyed seeing how visitors to the museum realize how much history we have to share. They don’t know how big the museum is or what all we have here until they stop.”

Blankenship said the support of the museum’s board members has meant a lot to him and it’s hard to find the words to express how much the volunteers mean to the museum.

“We have to depend on donations, memberships and admissions to finance the operation of the museum,” he said. “If it were not for the volunteers, we could not offer the programs and activities that we do.”

Blankenship’s last official day at the museum will be Sept. 30 but he said he’ll not be a stranger to the museum.

“Shirley will continue to work until the spring and then we are going to spend some time together doing other things we enjoy,” Blankenship said. “Shirley is an artist and we want to do some art shows. Our dream is to buy an RV and drive to Alaska. But that’s down the long road.”

And just down the short road is the Brundidge County Club and that’s where Blankenship will be on Oct. 1.

“I’m going to play a lot of golf,” he said. “I haven’t had any days off except for Sundays for about 26 months and I’m going to play as often as I can.”

And, on cold or rainy days, Blankenship’s hat will probably be hanging once again at the Pioneer Museum of Alabama where he will be a regular member of the chat circle.”