BRISTOL — The first thing Wanda Hoffman does when she shows up to volunteer at the Elkhart County Historical Museum is wash her hands.
“I think that’s partly because of my nursing background, but it’s important here because the oil from your hands can get on the documents and that makes them deteriorate easier,” the Goshen resident said Friday morning, May 2.
Hoffman, 67, was recently named the 2014 Elkhart County Senior of the Year by the Council on Aging of Elkhart County for her extensive volunteer work in preserving local history.
About five years ago, around the same time she retired from her career as a registered nurse, Hoffman was reading a book about the first 150 years of Goshen's history when she noticed it didn't include an index – so she decided to make one.
Now, she's the official archival processing volunteer for the Elkhart County Historical Museum and the librarian for Elkhart County Geological Society, which is housed at the museum.
"Happiness is filling in the blanks, but filling in the blanks means nothing unless you know what happened with those people as they moved through history," she said.
Matthew Schuld, director of the museum, wrote in his nomination letter to the Council on Aging that Hoffman's work has made it possible to offer online access to "more than 100,000 documents, pictures and historical ephemera."
Hoffmann was featured on WNIT's Experience Michiana last fall to talk about her work in bringing the museum up to speed with the digital age (see video below).
Someone seeking a document or detail about Elkhart County history can now visit www.elkhartcountyhistory.org and click on "Start Your Research."
Before she was the archival processing volunteer, Hoffman undertook a two-year project of documenting and preserving almost 100 scrapbooks in the museum's collection. They include a collection of wedding dress fabric samples from the 1800s and a scrapbook about the Elco Theater made by former owner Bill Miller's wife, Ruth.
"It’s like Christmas when you're opening a package...everything has some kind of surprise," Hoffman said.
On top of all her work in Bristol, she also gives tours of the Elkhart County Courthouse and volunteers at the Goshen Historical Society.
Her philosophy on preserving history is based on a quote from Maya Angelou:
“When we cast our bread upon the waters, we can presume that someone downstream whose face we will never know will benefit from our action, as we who are downstream from another will profit from that grantor’s gift.”
After half a decade of poring over the past, Hoffman has never once thought about quitting.
“There’s too many books to read and too many mysteries to solve,” she said.