UM-Flint alum works to keep legacy of Whaley House alive
If the walls of the Whaley Historic House Museum could talk, the variety of stories they could share about the family who lived there and the transformations that have taken place – both at the home and in the neighborhood – throughout the past 138 years would be enthralling.
And it's that type of environment that's perfect for someone like Izzy Guertin, a 2022 University of Michigan-Flint graduate with a bachelor's degree in history. She was recently named as the museum's new director. Guertin describes herself as being inexorably drawn to and fascinated by the Gilded Age, or the era between 1877 and 1900 in which the U.S. experienced rapid economic growth. She is also passionate about social history, or examining how people interacted with one another and their society, where they worked, lived and how they spent their free time.
"The Whaley Historic House Museum is a wonderful intersection of those subjects, showcasing an example of wealthy Gilded Age life," said Guertin.
For Guertin, visiting the museum last fall was love at first sight.
While she had visited other historic house museums, nothing compared to the connection she felt walking through the grand dining room or climbing up the steep staircase to the second floor of the Whaley Historic House Museum. The trip was part of the Museum Studies course led by Thomas Henthorn, a Wyatt-endowed professor of history at UM-Flint. The course focused on visiting local museums and learning about how they function and are maintained.
Guertin said the course taught her about the fundamental skills needed to successfully direct a museum.
"I received invaluable information and access to resources about operating museums, planning exhibits, and creating an inclusive and valuable experience for visitors."
Guertin credits Henthorn and Mary Jo Kietzman, associate professor of English, for helping her identify her interests and goals for the future.
"Their courses helped me gain a deeper love and appreciation for history and the power of writing," she said.
Guertin added that she had originally planned on teaching after college, but that the Whaley Historic House Museum captured her attention.
"I often say my life plan is to go where the wind takes me, and in this case, it took me to the Whaley Historic House Museum," said Guertin.
Now she's working to educate the community about Flint's history and the historic home.
"One interesting fact that people might not know about the (house) is that it was Flint's very first public historic home, which opened (to the public) in 1976, Guertin said.
The Whaley House also displays the bank ledger of William C. Durant and J. Dallas Dort, in which the $2,000 loan approved by Robert J. Whaley that allowed for the creation of the Flint Road Cart Company, which evolved into General Motors, is recorded.
Guertin said that while her position offers the flexibility to set her own hours and to work remotely as needed, it comes with many other positive aspects as well.
"Aside from being able to spend my days in such a beautiful home, this job has given me the opportunity to serve the Flint community and uphold the legacy of the Whaley-McFarlan family. The more time I spend in Flint, the more my love of the city grows. I am beyond thrilled to be here."
Although the museum is currently closed to the public due to COVID, Guertin is searching for volunteers to assist with events once it reopens in the spring. Anyone interested in volunteering at the museum should call (810) 238-7228.
More information on the Whaley House Museum is available on its website.
To learn more about the UM-Flint history program, visit its webpage.
Madeline Campbell is the communications specialist for the College of Arts & Sciences. She can be reached at email@example.com.