Debra Ramsey currently conducts group tours of the museum. She has been integrally involved in the development of The Leon & Rachel Gathany Museum of Natural History, working with Leon Gathany and the Gathany family to organize, label and maintain the museum displays.
Interview with Debra Ramsey:
Tell us about yourself – – anything you wish to share. For example, how did you decide to be a teacher?
I have wanted to be a teacher as long as I can remember. I used to get the old discarded school books thrown out by the school and take them home and play “school” with them. I wanted to be an elementary school teacher but after I got started classes at Piedmont College, I just wasn’t satisfied. I decided to transfer to Brenau College and take special education classes. I felt like that was what the Lord wanted me to do. It was my calling.
Tell us about your connection to Toccoa Falls and the museum.
I attended Toccoa Falls High School in the early 70’s and graduated from there. Mr. Gathany was my Principal and Science teacher. He was always my favorite Principal, and when I retired from education, I was approached by his daughter to assist him to write his book. About the time his book was finished, we got word that the President of Toccoa Falls, Dr. Myers, wanted to get the museum open to the public. So he and I worked together to move the artifacts to the museum building on campus. Together, we all arranged the displays and got the museum ready to open. After the museum opened, I assisted Mr. Gathany in giving tours to various groups.
What are the types of groups that have toured the museum?
We have had a variety of groups coming to the museum. Home school groups and individuals have made up the most of the groups. Special education groups have enjoyed the tours, and well as community groups, such as 4-H, Senior Center groups, Clary Center, and special interest groups. Also, we have had afterschool programs and day care programs bring groups out to enjoy the displays.
What was the largest group you hosted?
Regional Home School Educators group has been the largest group that has been to tour the museum. They had a total of 54 people, including children, adults and teachers. The home school groups usually have the largest numbers or participants to visit.
What was the most interesting question a visitor asks?
“How did he manage to find so many different and unique items?” is the question that many adults ask but the most interesting question the children ask is “Did you shoot all these animals?”
What is your favorite artifact in the museum?
It’s hard to say what my most favorite artifact is, but if I had to choose one it would be the loggerhead turtle. It was donated to the museum by Andy Beckman and he brought it to Mr. Gathany in a box, in pieces. I had to lay it all out on my kitchen bar and piece it together for it to take the shape it has today. It took me three weeks to complete the task of putting it together.
(Click on the image for a larger view)
How do you introduce the visitors to the museum?
I give a quick overview of the man behind the collection and a history of his life and how the museum came to be. I tell them about how Mr. Gathany wanted everyone to be able to enjoy the things that he had collected since he started at age 13. He wanted the museum to continue his legacy of education and learning about the world around us.
Leon Gathany often said there is a story for everything in the museum. What is your favorite story?
Yes, there is a story surrounding each and every item, but my favorite story is about the bear head and paws hanging on the wall. One night Mr. Gathany received a phone call telling him that a bear had been found over near the Trestle, thought it had been hit by a train, and did he want to come and get it. He said he would love to have it so he got up, dressed (even though it was the middle of the night), and went to pick it up. He wasn’t sure what he needed to do, so he took it by the police station and told them that he had it and what did he need to do to report to authorities that he had it. They didn’t know what to do either, so they told him to just take it on home. When he arrived at home with the bear in the back of his truck, the DNR game warden was already at his house. They wanted to take the bear to do a necropsy on it to see why it had been hit by a train. Generally bears do not get that close to train tracks. Well, he convinced the DNR guys to let him at least have the head and the paws, so he agreed to that. Later on, after they finished the necropsy on the bear, they discovered that she had eaten polk berries that were fermented and she was drunk.
What would tell someone who asks about the museum and wonders if they should visit it?
The museum is a very unique collection of unusual items that you will not see in other museums. So are very rare and priceless. Others are beautiful and interesting. There is something in the museum that will appeal to all ages, children to adults.
What would you like to see for the future of the museum?
I would love to see people coming from all over just to take a tour. I would also like to see the classroom set up for educational instruction for teachers to have access to. There have already been people visiting from other countries. I would love for the museum to be open to the public all week so that more people would have access to the wonders that the museum holds.