By Rob Peterson
Sue Moore worked on Vicksburg’s future by focusing on its past.
Her nearly 20-year history with the Vicksburg Historical Society was marked by constantly finding ways to increase its relevance to the greater community.
The Society manages the Historic Village on the east side of town. If you haven’t visited, it is a collection of a dozen buildings that are a combination of relocated historic buildings and newly built replicas – like a mini Greenfield Village. The village is anchored by the original train station, which houses most of the Society-owned historic artifacts.
“Sue helped to make the Historic Village a human-based experience rather than a collection of dusty old objects,” said current Society President Don Wiertella.
She accomplished this by involving other organizations to put on events that take place at the village. The site is the location of recurring events that include Summer Festival, Harvest Fest, the Revolutionary War Reenactment, and the Historic Speaker Series. It is also home to the Farmers Market.
Her first involvement came in the early 2000’s when the society was dedicating a replica of the original print shop. Some of the equipment installed inside was donated by Sue’s family, who owned the Vicksburg Commercial, predecessor to the South County News.
“I invited her to get involved, but Sue had a full-time job in Marshall,” said Kristina Powers Aubry, who was president of the Society at the time. “As soon as she retired, she took off like a bullet train.”
Her first order of business was to reinvent the newsletter, turning it into an 8-page full-color brochure that included information about the Society and the Historic Village. “It looked professional and should have won an award,” said Aubry.
She was one of the people responsible for the first Harvest Fest, which grew from 300 to over 4,000 attendees in its first 11 years. It has been successful, according to Aubry, because “Sue chose such good people to lead each part of the festival.”
Partnering with other people and organizations was a hallmark of her involvement in the Society over the years. She was a creative idea person and was often the instigator of new projects, but she rarely acted alone. “She would ask people to participate and would keep looking until she found someone,” said Aubry.
Sometimes, though, the need to innovate came from outside the Society. In 2019, Vicksburg Village Manager Jim Mallery requested a clearer, written agreement between the Village and the Society on how operating costs of the Historic Village are divided.
Society president Don Wiertella worked with Sue to negotiate with Mallery. Don and Sue didn’t always have the same opinion, but she always supported the people she worked with. “She would never communicate behind anyone’s back, even if she didn’t agree with them,” said Wiertella.
In the end, the Society is now covering a larger share of the Historic Village operating costs, but that is causing it to be more creative. Wiertella is not worried because the Society is in a good place, in part because of Sue’s involvement. She would faithfully collect email addresses, growing its contact database to thousands of people.
This list has helped them increase membership to around 150 people, each paying $30 to $60 a year. Some are able to be more generous, giving annually at the $250 Supporter level.
The Society has an endowment at the Kalamazoo Community Foundation to help defray the new costs, and it has an army of volunteers who collectively provide thousands of hours of work each year. Volunteer groups include the Victorian Garden Club whose members maintain the gardens onsite, the Thursday Guys who built many of the replica buildings, and those who help organize fundraisers and events at the village.
The newest event to be put on by the Society was started by Sue just last year. The May Meander event had over 100 attendees in its first year, and as is typical for a Sue Moore-inspired event, it brought many organizations together.
One example of this collaborative spirit was how Sue involved Vicksburg Community Schools, which happened to be holding a History Day at the same time. Because she was aware of what other groups were doing, Sue was able to incorporate the school community into the May Meander event.
The Society was also aided by Sue’s efforts to involve younger generations of Vicksburg residents, like Ryan and Dana Wagner, who moved here when Ryan took the job of managing the local PNC branch.
“She would see me at village council meetings and started asking me questions about my interests,” said Ryan. “She learned that I have an appreciation for history, and she wanted a fresh set of eyes on the Historic Society board.”
Her energy put Ryan in the mindset to do more in the community. “She was engaged and enthusiastic,” he said. “She didn’t do anything half-heartedly.”
Sue’s recent work has included a presentation that will be used to educate people on both the history and the future of the Society. “The Historic Society will be the economic engine for the Village of Vicksburg,” according to the presentation. It can be viewed on their Society’s website, VicksburgHistory.org.
Just like Sue, the presentation honors the past with an eye towards the future.
By Rob Peterson