Nancy Glaser has stars in her eyes when she stands in the Augusta Museum of History’s large exhibit room, now dedicated to Augusta’s greatest stars.
That’s because the museum’s executive director envisions an entire new wing devoted to those who made the Augusta area a great place to live, and who made themselves great in the process.
She understands that young people seeing this exhibit will realize that if these people, who were born in Augusta or once lived in the area, could achieve international fame then just maybe they can, too.
And Glaser also knows that you can’t be proud of your town if you are not proud of what it has done or proud of the productive and creative citizens who came out it.
That’s why the museum’s new permanent exhibit on the second floor, which opened to the public Friday, is dedicated to:
AUTHORS: People such as Edison Marshall and Erskine Caldwell, whose novels have sold in the millions.
ATHLETES: People such as Emerson Boozer, a graduate of Lucy Laney High School, who played with the New York Jets along with Joe Namath; and Larry Mize, the only Augustan ever to win his hometown Masters’ Tournament.
ENTERTAINERS: People such as Brenda Lee, who lived in a small house off Gordon Highway and would go on to sing for the queen of England; and James Brown, who would set the standard for what a soulful performer and singer should be.
AND OTHERS: People such as Carl Sanders, the only Augustan to become governor of Georgia in the 20th century; and Susan Still, who grew up with her feet on the sidewalks of Augusta but who would fly among the stars as one of America’s astronauts.
The new exhibit room is like walking into the attics of some of America’s greatest achievers and being within feet of memorable parts of their past.
Several of those achievers were either present or represented at the exhibit’s preview party last Thursday afternoon, including local music legends Flo Carter and Janis Lewis Phillips (The Lewis Family), best-selling author Janelle Taylor, retired Air Force general and CNN military analyst Perry M. Smith, and two daughters of James Brown, Deanna Brown Thomas and Venisha Brown.
“I think everybody needs to see this exhibit at least once,” said Phillips from her home in Lincolnton, Ga. Her performing family has been seen on WJBF-TV for five decades, has been inducted into the Georgia Music Hall of Fame and has won many Dove awards from the Gospel Music Association.
“I really appreciate that The Lewis Family was included in this exhibit,” she added.
The tiny dress that Phillips wore for the cover photograph of the family’s second Starday Records album, Anniversary Celebration, recorded in 1962, is on display in the exhibit along with the album cover to show her wearing it.
“My mother (Pauline “Mom” Lewis) made all of our stage dresses back then,” she noted. “All I know is that I couldn’t get into it now.”
Flo Carter, whose gospel recordings have been played on stations across the nation and who also has been seen on local TV stations for half a century, feels like the sparkling red dress that she wore while singing with The Augusta Symphony for its Valentine’s Day concert is in good company in the exhibit.
“I’ve thought of every word I could to describe how I feel to be included in this exhibit, and the best word is that I feel humbled,” she said.
“It’s really such an honor to be there with friends I’ve known for so many years like The Lewis Family and James Brown and Brenda Lee and Terri Gibbs. This is all due to Nancy Glaser’s vision and passion.
“She really cares about Augusta, and that impresses me because I care about Augusta, too. This area has been so good to me, and I’m just a happy camper.”
Taylor, a historical romance novelist who has been on The New York Times’ best-seller list nine times, said she was impressed with the range of nationally known people coming from the Augusta area.
“I didn’t realize there was such a wide diversity,” she said of the political, literary, entertainment, sports and other notables. “This exhibit gave me a chance to learn who these people are and their contributions. I found myself both entertained and educated in seeing it.”
Taylor, like executive director Glaser, sees the exhibit as being a major teaching tool as well as instilling community pride.
“This gives teachers an excellent chance to show their students that you can come from a small or midsize town and you can achieve so many good things in your lifetime.
“I know from the reaction to my own history-theme novels that people are fascinated by historical figures, but they also are fascinated by living legends.
“This exhibit is so well rounded when you see the black robe worn by a famous judge, a championship boxer’s belt, an astronaut’s uniform, a governor’s chair, a famous singer’s stage costume and so much more.
“Even I didn’t realize there were so many famous authors from this area,” she added. “Nancy and her staff did such a good job in bringing about this exhibit.”