My name is Rachel Niswander and I am the Preserve WV AmeriCorps member at Happy Retreat in Charles Town, WV. Thanks to my father’s job, I moved around a bit growing up, living in Alaska and Texas before settling in the Chicago suburb of Naperville. In 2016 I graduated from Marquette University in Milwaukee with degrees in history and anthropology. I was a violinist and involved with the orchestra from age 10 all the way up to senior year of college and did a lot of volunteering in high school and college with homeless shelters and a Catholic Worker home. I was also in the Anthropology Society and was co-president my senior year.
I’ve worked and interned at a couple different museums. My first internship was at Naper Settlement in Naperville, Illinois, where I catalogued artifacts relating to the city’s history. I spent a year interning at the Chudnow Museum of Yesteryear in Milwaukee, cataloging items relating to Milwaukee’s history between the 1920s and 1940s, giving tours, and assisting with setting up museum displays. I worked at Blackberry Farms in Aurora, Illinois, working as a historical interpreter and demonstrating 1800s trades to families and leading school programs, and at the Grove in Glenview, Illinois, leading school programs. I’ve also volunteered at the Robert R. McCormick Museum in Wheaton, Illinois, as a docent.
I was looking for jobs in the history field and was having a difficult time finding a position when I remembered that a college classmate mentioned that he was an AmeriCorps member after he graduated college. It sounded like something I would enjoy, so I went on the AmeriCorps site and checked to see if there were any history-related positions or programs that would connect people to history. I found the Preserve WV program and immediately I knew I had to apply for it. The opportunity to be involved with historic preservation and heritage tourism was too good to pass up, even if it meant moving almost 700 miles from home to a state I’ve only been to once!
I’m excited for my year of service with Happy Retreat. Happy Retreat is the home of Charles Washington, George’s younger brother and founder of Charles Town. There is plenty of Washington family history in the Charles Town area, as well as Civil War history, which is perfect for my history loving self. This is actually the first AmeriCorps position that Happy Retreat has had and the board and I are all looking forward to the next year. A couple of the things I’ll be doing are assisting in planning for our Wine and Jazz festival in June and our Craft Beer and Music festival in September, establishing a music series, conducting a market research project for using Happy Retreat for rental purposes, doing research on the development of Charles Town and Happy Retreat, and developing plans for future exhibits. I’m looking forward to all the things I’ll be doing in the upcoming year!