Historyteller: Mary Ann Hayes

Former high school history teacher Mary Ann Hayes of Jasper has been involved with the Dubois County Historical Society for five decades, and currently serves as president, a role she has held for the last 22 years. She has been an integral part of the Dubois County Museum since its inception in 1999.

Story by Candy Neal
Photos by Sarah Ann Jump

Mary Ann Hayes loves to learn about and share local history.

“History is fascinating,” she said. “Everyone should learn about their history, the history of their county, their state, their country. You become more interested and vested in your community when you learn the history of it.”

Hayes, 76, of Jasper, has gladly made it her mission to teach others about their history. She has been a member of the Dubois County Historical Society for the past 50 years. She was a relatively young teacher at Jasper High School when the late John Fierst, a former county historian, recruited her for the society.

“We want to make sure local history is well documented and shared with others,” Hayes said. “We have a rich history here.”

She’s also been involved in the Dubois County Museum since it opened in 1999. Since she was the society’s president at the time, she was named vice president of the museum’s board, eventually moving into the president position. She stepped down from the presidency last year, and is now collections chairman.

Hayes can rattle off numerous historical facts about Dubois County. But, surprisingly, she was born and raised in Princeton and graduated from Princeton High School.

“People are surprised when they find out that I’m not from here,” she said.

She has been such a longtime staple in Dubois County that most people assume she is a native. But she and her husband, Don, whom she met while they were attending Evansville College, moved to Jasper in 1963.

“We came to town after we got jobs here,” she said. “Actually, we got married two weeks before we moved here.”

That started Hayes’ 36-year teaching career with the Greater Jasper Consolidated School District. She started as a seventh-grade teacher at St. Joseph’s School; the building is now Tenth Street School. After four years, she was moved to Jasper High School, where she taught world history to sophomores.

“I really enjoyed being a history teacher,” she said, “most of the time. There were some times that I really ‘earned my money.’ But overall, it was a great experience for me.”

Almost 20 years before she retired, she proposed teaching anthropology as a one-semester elective for juniors and seniors. The proposal was accepted. Why was she qualified to teach the class? “During the summer months, I’d been going on archaeological digs,” she said. “I learned a lot through those.”

Hayes retired in 1999, the same year the county museum opened.

Mary Ann leads a collections committee meeting in the Collections Management Center of the Dubois County Museum in Jasper on Aug. 7. The group of volunteers meets every Tuesday morning to discuss items donated and research completed, and to delegate tasks to be completed that day.

“So I just went from one job to another,” she said with a smile. “But here I am a volunteer.”

She is usually at the museum in the mornings with her collections committee, documenting and cataloging new artifact gifts and loans. All artifacts are cataloged into an archive program on the network of computers in the museum’s offices. Those are backed up each day, and a copy of the information is taken off-site each night.

“We take this very seriously,” Hayes said.

The museum has more than 40,000 artifacts; about 8,000 items are on display. As various exhibits and exhibit ideas come up, Hayes or another committee member scans through the museum’s collection to find and set aside appropriate items for the exhibit. The exhibits committee puts the items on display. Everything is documented so that no items are lost.

“I really think that people kind of thought, ‘You’ve just got a bunch of old, retired people out at the museum having a good time’,” Hayes said. “But running a quality museum is a demanding job. People are trusting us with important possessions, things that cannot be replaced. We make sure that we take care of those things, because they tell the story of our community.”

George R. Wilson, who documented much of Dubois County’s history, talked about why he chose to write a book about the county. And his reasoning resonates with Hayes so much that she shares it with others when explaining her passion.

“He says something to the effect of, ‘I’ve written this book for the schoolchildren because they just don’t know their local history.’ He said that in 1896,” Hayes noted. “In other words, it’s the same old story.”

The history students learn in school is mostly U.S. or world history, with some state history thrown in during grade school.

Mary Ann tells volunteer Elaine Hopf of Jasper about the Company K flag and custom-built display case at the Dubois County Museum in Jasper on Aug. 28. Mary Ann arranged for the restoration and display of the Civil War flag, which is on loan to the museum by the historical society.

But local history — the history of a student’s county, city, town or community — usually is not covered in the schoolbooks.

“The schools usually don’t teach just local history,” Hayes said. “They have to follow curriculums and state guidelines. So it’s hard to find a place in the curriculum for local history.”

“And in a sense, maybe that’s just as well,” she continued. “That way, local people can teach their own history accurately and the way they want to.”

Hayes’ love for history came though her family.

“I always enjoyed reading. And I enjoyed history classes in school,” she said. “But I remember the stories my grandmother (Esther Knox) would tell about family. She was always a really great storyteller. That got me more invested in learning about local history and local stories.”

Her husband, Don, also likes history. But Hayes admits she is more of the buff, recalling family trips they would take when their now-adult daughter, Elizabeth, was young.

“He and Beth used to complain that every time we went somewhere, we had to stop at every historical marker along the road. There is no truth to that,” Mary Ann said with a telling laugh. “They just have to complain about that.”

The latest historical marker Mary Ann has viewed is Buckingham’s Base Line, which was recently replaced on U.S. 231 near Haysville. She and others gathered at the marker in July for a dedication service of the marker, which marked the site of the east-west survey line, from which the grid for accurately identifying properties starts. The original marker was knocked down by a car years ago.

“The application to get a new marker was challenging,” Mary Anne said. “The state wanted all kinds of things documented. And we had to pay for the new one.”

The historical society and local donations covered the cost.

Mary Ann speaks at the dedication of the Buckingham’s Base Line historical marker near Haysville on July 14. As president of the Dubois County Historical Society, Mary Ann compiled the application to the Indiana Historical Bureau for the marker.

Outside of historical events, Mary Ann spends time with her family; daughter Elizabeth Nicholson lives in Fishers with her family. Hayes also meets up with fellow retired teachers at lunch, and reads. “Though I don’t get to read as much as I used to,” she said.

She is also a member of the 20th Century Literary Club, one of the oldest clubs in Dubois County, and the Dubois County Retired Teachers. And she finds time to attend some Republican events with Don, who is head of the party’s Eighth District.

Mary Ann sees the similarities between being a history teacher and the work she does with the historical society and county museum.

“I feel like I’m still teaching history, but in a much different way,” she said. “At school, I talked about history, and showed the students history in that way. At the museum, you learn about history by walking through and seeing our exhibits. That is a very different way of learning, than teaching in a classroom. And both ways are important.”

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