Each object in the Riley County Historical Museum’s collection is a story to Allana Parker.
Parker, the museum’s curator of design, loves learning the stories of the area’s history and sharing them with the community.
“History is more than names and dates,” she said. “It’s a story. There are real emotions behind them.”
Parker, 32, has been with the museum since 2012. She received her bachelor’s degree from K-State in 2010 and her master’s degree from the University of Kansas in 2012.
Parker said she became certain she wanted to work in history while she was at K-State. She was working on field research for a course that involved speaking to residents of Paxico about the history of the community. She so enjoyed the conversations with people about their own histories that it solidified her decision.
“I always enjoyed history, but that really was the catalyst to pursue a career,” she said.
Her job includes putting together the exhibits for the museum, working with partner organizations like the Manhattan Public Library, Manhattan Arts Center or K-State on exhibits at those locations, and doing educational programs in the community.
She said she has found that people in Riley County and Manhattan place a lot of value in the history of the area.
“I’m biased, but we have a community that really cares about it heritage and sharing its stories,” Parker said.
Parker said she enjoys working on projects with organizations like K-State and the U.S. Cavalry Museum at Fort Riley, because they often demonstrate how histories intersect and affect each other.
“When you’re covering a broad spectrum of history, it’s neat to see how many connections you have,” she said. “We’re not isolated. Our histories are shared.”
Parker said she loves territorial history of Kansas and that Manhattan, founded during that era, is a great place to explore it. One of her favorite parts of the job is giving tours of the Goodnow House, which was the home of Isaac and Ellen Goodnow, one of the founding couples of Manhattan.
“When you hold a banister and know at one point they held it too, you can’t help but think what it would be like,” she said.
This resonates in her personal life as well. Parker has been doing research into her family recently, in part because it was something her grandmother enjoyed.
“It was important to my grandma, and I want to honor her by doing the same.”
It’s an interest her husband, Daren, shares. They’ve been married since 2013.
In Manhattan history, Parker said she feels a special connection to Julia Lovejoy, another early member of the community. Lovejoy arrived in the area pregnant and having lost a child on her travels. Parker said she has read a diary that Lovejoy kept and that she felt the emotion Lovejoy wrote with. She sometimes dresses up as Lovejoy and visits area schools to tell her story.
Parker said her favorite item at the museum is probably a plaque that honors World War I veterans from Riley County. It’s meaningful to her because it represents so many individual people who each have their own histories.
“You can pick any name off that plaque and find their story,” she said. “That is 1,009 individual stories.”
Parker said she enjoys sharing these histories of the community with its members. Sometimes she gives a presentation at a local organization and people in the audience will jump in with their own stories or sometimes will even say they are related to someone she is speaking about.
She also gets to share with the youth of Manhattan. The museum hosts every fourth-grade class in town at the Wolf House every year, and Parker said she likes making the students consider how life is different in modern times, whether it’s phones, air conditioning or even bathrooms. She said giving the young people something tangible helps them connect with the past.
“It’s a way for them to come into contact with a real experience, whether it’s a smell, or music,” she said.
Cheryl Collins, director of the Riley County Historical Museum, said Parker has a deep knowledge of Riley County history and she’s always interested in delving into more. She said Parker is able to convey that knowledge when she presents programs in the community.
“It’s invaluable having someone with her knowledge and her interest in sharing it,” Collins said.
Parker said she thinks learning about the past can give people empathy for others and knowing its story can also help give a place a sense of identity.
She said people in jobs like hers become the caretaker of those identities.
“The community entrusted us to take care of their heirlooms and tell their stories the best we can,” she said. “It’s something you feel dedicated to. If somebody doesn’t take care of it, you lose that sometimes.”