LIMA — Allen County Museum Director Patricia Smith’s first exhibit she worked on was John Dillinger’s cell. Nestled in an alcove in the back of the basement, the bars, toilet and bed were transported from what was the Allen County Jail and installed to house a Dillinger-sized replica of the man.
Smith explained the process, jumping from story to story about Dillinger’s history while weaving in her own more current past into the narrative. Even 18 years after she first undertook the project, she throws out details as if they happened yesterday — where things were purchased, facts about the man’s robberies, the stories of visitors, the sources of information — all of it stored and categorized like the items behind glass.
Her replacement will have a lot of catching up to do. Smith retires as museum director today.
From the stories of Allen County World War I soldiers to the dangers of hauling logs with sleds, Smith seems to know something about every exhibit. She delights in the odds and ends of historical data, compiling the research and explaining how an item like a locomotive or Liberty truck — items that show off the history of Allen County — ended up traveling back to their roots in downtown Lima.
“Do the people of Lima realize what they have here? It’s a gem,” Smith said about the museum.
While Smith’s first job may have been the Dillinger exhibit, her biggest accomplishment came soon after — renovating and expanding the building to house first-class exhibits.
“When I got hired they made it my charge to make sure it got done,” Smith said.
Smith’s work was instrumental in pushing the museum expansion project forward, redesigning plans and raising the funds needed. She succeeded in that charge. Today, the museum now has an accreditation from the American Alliance of Museums. Of the few thousand in the nation, only 27 county museums have received the honor, although she admits that more work needs to be done to update the museum. The success of that charge, however, will be up to her replacement, Amy Craft.
Smith said she won’t be leaving the museum behind entirely. She already has plans to help volunteer during her retirement alongside some self-imposed duties of spoiling grandchildren and conducting personal genealogical research.
“I have the greatest job in the world. I hope the next person feels that way,” she said.
Reach Josh Ellerbrock at 567-242-0398.