Bill Pearson enjoys sharing his love of history with others, and at 91, volunteers every Saturday at the Benzie Area History Museum, giving tours. (Photo/Colin Merry)
Pearson spend countless hours giving tours at museum
by Colin Merry for the Record Patriot
BENZIE COUNTY — Still volunteering after 90 years, Bill Pearson proves that growing older doesn’t mean you have to stop doing what you love.
Pearson, a local history buff who has a special interest in the railroads and ships of yesteryear, volunteers as a docent at the Benzie Area Historical Museum every Saturday.
“I give guided tours on Saturdays,” Pearson said. “It really depends on the number of visitors. Sometimes, all you can do is greet them and tell them where to go. Sometimes you can take more time. I like to show people the lumber industry exhibit and the farming exhibit. You need to be able to judge the people and see what they are looking for. What do they want to see? Some people just want to discover things themselves, and they don’t want any help. There are some who agree to have me show them some things, and I’m delighted to do that. There are so many exhibits at the museum. There are so many things to show.”
Pearson said guiding tours sometimes leads to unexpected opportunities, such as when a woman visited the museum while her husband and son waited in the car.
It just so happened that while visiting the World War I exhibit, a small uniform not being displayed came up, and the woman brought her son in to try the uniform on and take a picture.
When not greeting or guiding, Pearson said he tries to “Make himself useful.”
“One Saturday we were working on identifying who donated some sheet music to the museum,” he said. “We had this box not identified by one particular individual. We were trying to find out who gave this music to the museum and update the records. Or sometimes, we go through donated photos to see if they actually have anything to do with Benzie County, or not.”
Misty Sheehan, director of the Benzie County Historical Museum, said Pearson has been a long-standing volunteer.
“He entertains people with the stories he knows about Benzie County,” Sheehan said. “He’s a great docent. Even when he’s not here, he helps out. One time, a boy came in and said he had found part of a boat on a beach and asked if we knew what boat it was. We called Bill and he talked to the family, got the information and then called back. With increasing detail, he told the boy about the boat he found.”
Sheehan said Pearson knew a great deal about boats and bridges.
“He keeps himself busy,” Sheehan said. “He doesn’t just stay home and watch television.” Pearson said he had a special interest in anything that had to do with transportation.
“I like learning about the predecessors to the Ann Arbor Railroad; it is a lot of fun talking about the old railroad,” He said. “I like learning about the car ferries, and what came before them. There was a boat that left Frankfort every day and went to Manistee to meet the trains there. Maritime and transportation history is interesting.”
Pearson also has an interest in travel, and every Thursday, he hosts a showing of a travel video at the Michigan Shores Cooperative, where he lives.
Pearson said he started volunteering when he moved back to Benzie County in 2001. He first volunteered on The S.S. City of Milwaukee in Manistee, but eventually, driving to the ship became too much. He then volunteered for about 10 years at the Point Betsie Lighthouse. However, at age 90, he said he just couldn't get “out to the lighthouse any longer.”
So he found something closer, the museum, and he lets The Benzie Bus do the driving.
“The museum is doable,” he said. “I’ll do this as long as I can.”