Something very familiar brought Alice Suderman to volunteer her time at Kauffman Museum when she and her husband moved to Newton back in 1998.
The retired teacher knew she wanted to help out around the community and the museum in North Newton turned out to be the perfect place, both because of an immediate need for assistance (with a staff member on maternity leave) and Suderman's own, personal connection.
As the great-niece of museum founder and original curator Charles Kauffman, Suderman already had a familiarity with a lot of what was on display in the North Newton facility, growing up a short drive from "Uncle Carl's" home (with visits frequently requested) in South Dakota.
"The majority of exhibits, I'm sure it's the majority, are his in this museum, and so I was acquainted with most of them," Suderman said. "I didn't consider anything else very much at all when I knew this museum was her because it just seemed right for me."
Knowing the history behind several of the exhibits, Suderman can provide some additional insight for museum visitors — like how the log cabin display is very similar to the original Kauffman crafted at his home in South Dakota, and how the father figure (whose angry disposition frightened her as a child) was one of his first-ever wood carvings.
While Suderman now solely volunteers at the front desk of the museum, she can't help but interact with the visitors and inform them of the history on display — something she did for several years when she first started helping out at Kauffman. For 14 of her 20 years at the museum, Suderman regularly lectured to children visiting on field trips (sometimes up to 4,000 in one year when she began).
"My particular assignment was to tell about immigrants and also introduce them to the exhibits that related to that," Suderman said.
Additionally, Suderman served as hostess for the Mirror of the Martyrs exhibit. The exhibit was one created uniquely for the museum, telling the history of Mennonite martyrs during the Reformation. Suderman noted it is a "powerful" exhibit and one she led presentations on for special occasions (i.e. baptism classes).
Previously, Suderman also served on the board and different committees for the museum. She helped organize events for the annual Kansas Day festivities and was also part of the education committee.
"In our meetings, we'd sit down and decide what would make something interesting for children," Suderman said, "because that was sort of our department."
On top of Suderman's personal ties, she noted an inherent interest in the subject matter brought her to volunteer at the museum — as her innate love of history continued to grow throughout her life.
"I think my interest in Mennonite history, my church history, and my interest in history period played a large part because I really took a liking to Mennonite history and I've got it down pretty well," Suderman said.
Even for non-Mennonites, Suderman said there are many displays of interest at Kauffman museum and she is always happy to answer any questions and divulge some of that personal knowledge she has accumulated over the years.
Kauffman Museum feels like home to Suderman not only because of the familiarity that surrounds her in her great-uncle's work, work that many of her relatives take pride in and are happy to see on display, but also because of the inviting atmosphere the museum staff has created, for both visitors and volunteers — making it a good place to start for anyone looking to give back some of their time in the community.