The Clewiston News interviews: Butch Wilson

In his element, museum curator Butch Wilson tells of his life growing up in South Bay and his burgeoning interest in natural history.

In his element, museum curator Butch Wilson tells of his life growing up in South Bay and his burgeoning interest in natural history.

The Clewiston News interviews museum curator Butch Wilson.

Q: What is your name?

A: My name is Butch Wilson. That’s a nickname I acquired when I was three weeks old. I had surgery and the doctor said he had butchered on me. They didn’t know if I was going to live. My real name is William Paul Wilson, but I acquired the name Butch, and my family started calling me Butch.

Q: Where did you grow up?

A: I grew up in South Bay. South Bay is very similar to Clewiston. It’s a small rural town, however, we never had the money circulating around South Bay as you do here in Clewiston, because we weren’t blessed to have a large industry like U.S. Sugar, so everyone in the community pitched in and made things happen. I played in a lot of sports programs. Baseball, especially, was a large program. I played a lot of baseball. There wasn’t a lot of other things to do so us guys would get together and we turned the North New River Canal that goes through South Bay — that was our municipal pool. That was where I learned to swim. Also, out on Lake Okeechobee. I did a lot of fishing. As I grew a little older, when I was in the eighth grade, my parents entrusted me with a rifle, and shotgun, and us guys would just go walking through town. We were responsible and did not load our guns, but just walked right through town with our guns over our backs — five or six of us — and go out in the woods hunting. It was really unique; a really unique experience.

Q: Were you always interested in history, fossils?

A: Not really. It was unfortunate. But I was always more interested in the living things. I did not really have a mentor, someone to encourage me and explain fossils — I acquired that interest later in life. I was always a naturalist, wanting to know what was under a rock or under a bush or in the air, things that were alive.

Q: How did you get into the role you find yourself in today?

A: There was a position. I had been with U.S. Sugar for 32 years. They had to let a lot of us go. They got into financial situation. They were very generous in the fact that they gave us a week for every year we had been employed with the company. But it still left me high and dry. I was 56 years old. I majored in history in college, up at Lee University in Cleveland, Tenn. I applied for the job, wasn’t sure if I met the credentials or requirements, but they hired me. They didn’t realize, and I jokingly say, the board turned a kid loose in a candy store.

Q: What is your favorite aspect of the job?

A: I enjoy meeting people, telling them about the history and the heritage of our area. I think that’s the most rewarding aspect, meeting people with enquiring minds who come in here. The museum is kind of unique because, most small towns — it’s unfortunate, and I’m guilty myself, but when you go into a small town, you have small expectations as a visitor. Much of this was already in place when I came here. I’ve worked primarily on the natural history, but people are always surprised because we’re fortunate to have a building that has something of this size that is part of our community. It’s always surprising to the locals. Unfortunately, I would probably say 80 or 90 percent of the adults living in Clewiston have never been in this museum. And you think about that, but how many times did you go in your local museum where you grew up? You’ll go out of state and out of county, and when you’re visiting somewhere you get an enquiring mind, you’re wanting to know about the things that are on the other side of the fence, so to speak. But right in your own backyard, you don’t have the same interest.

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