“Welcome to the Robbins Hunter Museum.” Lois Minsker can’t remember how many times visitors have walked up the broad porch and through the front door of the Avery Downer House. And for good reason. Lois has been a volunteer for 35 years, the longest serving volunteer in the museum’s history.
She marvels at the changes to the museum and its grounds over time. “It’s really spiffed up now,” she says. “It’s been evolving and still is!”
She remembers the days in the 1960’s when Robby Hunter lived in the main house with the crammed full woodshop of antiques out back. “The shop was never open,” she laughed. “It was all very different then.”
“He lived in three rooms here in the main house,” she said, “and the path through those rooms was very narrow, crammed with his collections.” Hunter, eclectic and reclusive, was a noted collector and over the years filled nearly every available space with enough fine antiques to furnish the interior. He died in 1979 and Lois began her volunteer service two years later as the house first opened as a museum under provisions of his Trust. “My sister urged me to get involved. So I did!”
Through the years, Lois worked alongside the museum’s directors. First Paul Goudy, then Buck Sargent, then Jean McDaniel and now Ann Lowder. Giving tours is her favorite part, but she’s willing to do about anything that needs to be done. She helps with mailings, polishes silverware, decorates holiday trees…whatever the need. And on quiet days, she picks up her quilting to stay occupied.
Mostly, Lois signs up to help twice a month and she fills in whenever she can. She leads a busy life, swimming four days a week at the YWCA at 5 a.m. and singing with Vintage Voices. With three grown children, she and her husband, John, are now spending a lot of time traveling to be with family scattered around the country. She just returned from Texas for her daughter’s 50th birthday and a grandchild’s graduation and in a day or so she’s off for her sister’s 80th birthday. A few more graduations in between make for a busy spring. But when the sign up sheet for volunteer service comes on email, she plugs in, like she always does.
“The museum is a great value to the community,” Lois says. Despite the broad exposure the museum has gained over the years, she wishes more local people would take advantage of the museum, its exhibits and its programs. “They just aren’t looking in their own backyards,” she said.
So, let’s take a tour with Lois. Walk into the entry with a beautiful staircase spiraling up to the second floor. Lois will give you a bit of history and tell you that this house if the finest example of Greek Revival Architecture in the country. And if you don’t know what Greek Revival Architecture is, she’ll tell you.
To the right is the men’s parlor or Dr. Spelman’s office as it’s now known. To the left is the main room, the ladies’ parlor. Both rooms have period furniture and are representative of the late 1800’s when the house was a private home. Walk through the family room where items for everyday life sit as they might have long ago. There are toys for children, books for reading aloud, and a magic lantern for a slide show.
Head to the Octagon Room where Lois remarks that Robby Hunter seemed to have placed every conceivable architectural element he had collected over time somewhere in the room. She likes to call it Hunter’s Folly.
In 45 minutes, Lois will have taken you back in time. And through the years, through the thick and thin of it, she has held constant, giving of herself to a house that has, itself, stood the test of time.