Meet & Greet: Shirley Simmons

Fuquay-Varina Museums Volunteer Director; General Federation of Women’s Clubs Jennie Award Winner for the state of North Carolina

Artifacts detailing the history and growth of Fuquay-Varina line the walls at the Fuquay-Varina Centennial Museum.

Shirley Simmons has one of the best memories in the town of Fuquay-Varina. Fellow docents at the Fuquay-Varina Museums complex say she is a “walking history book” or has “more knowledge in just a corner of her brain.”

“I love history,” Simmons says. “It’s interesting to discover what you can find out.”

A former high school social studies teacher, Simmons served as co-chair of the town’s Centennial Commission, charged with planning Fuquay-Varina’s centennial celebration in 2009.

Part of that work included collecting artifacts, timelines, and oral histories from longtime area residents to create a public exhibit.

“We learned history from individuals. Not much is written down. We asked, ‘What do you remember? What do you know?’” Simmons says. “I didn’t mind doing the research.”

From the centennial exhibit, the Fuquay-Varina History Museums complex began, and it’s grown to include the Squire Ballentine Schoolhouse, the town’s first post office, a tobacco barn, a log playhouse, and railway caboose, in addition to the Centennial Museum.

Visit Fuquay-Varina’s first jail on a tour of the Centennial Museum

“Our goal is to save what we can,” says Simmons.

In a rapidly growing and changing town, preserving history can be a challenge, Simmons admits. Tours at the museum complex have decreased since covid, and the Centennial Museum’s space is maxed out, full of papers, heirlooms, and artifacts — including, among many others, the town’s first indoor toilet — donated by residents.

Simmons encourages residents, new and established, to visit the museums complex and learn from the experienced docents.

“We really try to tell the story, to tell the funny things,” she says. “Come and learn. I bet you’ll like it.”

Simmons sums up her love of history with the NC Questers motto: “It’s fun to search and a joy to find.”

Docents available for guided tours:
Mondays 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. and Wednesdays 1 to 4 p.m.
131 S. Fuquay Ave., Fuquay-Varina

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