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Cull bids farewell to curator post

By Staff | Dec 24, 2014

Anne Cull, curator of the Cape Coral Historical Society Museum since 1999, will retire at the end of this year. Regan Doherty, formerly the cultural resource manager for the Mound House at Fort Myers Beach, has been selected by the Historical Society Board of Directors to succeed Cull as curator.

“It’s been a joyous ride,” Cull says of her curatorship. “But I’m at the point now where I am ready to let it go. The new curator is a very competent young lady. She will take it to the next level.”

Born in Ireland and raised in England, Anne Cull came to the States in the ’60s and to the Cape in 1973. Always fascinated by history, Cull found the Cape Coral story, like its canal system, to be unique.

“The fact that these two brothers came here from Baltimore and flew over in 1957 and bought the land-it was just raw land, a few cattle ranches and homesteads-but they had a dream, a vision. When they created the Rose Garden with the Waltzing Waters, they spared no cost. They had 40,000 rose bushes. To me, that’s one of the big tragedies that it wasn’t kept. And they had so many celebrities coming here. They made a movie here in the ’60s called “The Fat Spy.” It’s really an endurance test to get through it. It’s the worst movie ever made,” Cull laughed, “but the redeeming factor is that it’s got some great footage of early Cape Coral.”

Cull worked in the National Bank of Cape Coral as a new accounts manager for 10 years. “There were only two banks,” she said, “so we knew everybody. I got to meet a lot of the people who started Cape Coral.”

For a time, she owned a gift shop, the Boutique for Feline Fanciers, inspired by her “big fat cat named Felix.” She also worked in sales for The Breeze newspaper. In hindsight, Cull sees all of these occupations as a serendipitous preparation for her job as a history museum curator. A strong curator needs more than a love of history; she needs financial acumen, people-management, marketing and organizational skills, and as Cull points out, “Everything I have ever done has helped me in this job.”

But Cull never imagined herself as a museum curator. When she saw an ad for the position, she interviewed for it because “I have a passion for history and I love Cape Coral,” but she did not think for a minute that she’d get the job. “Then I was called a couple of weeks later, and I thought, oh my gosh.”

Cull walked into a building, the original golf pro shop and snack bar for the Cape Coral Country Club, that was in disrepair, with no central air-“It had a big air conditioner in the middle of the wall”-with three different kinds of floors, a lot of artifacts in the back room and photographs and papers all over everywhere. Nothing had been done with them.

“We were bursting at the seams with artifacts and information.

“Now we have three buildings and each of the buildings is totally paid for, and we gave them back to the city-everything belongs to the city. Now we have so many displays we don’t need much storage. People come here and are just amazed at what we have. It’s a small campus, but we have a lot of content. We are being discovered,” Cull said with a smile. “People from everywhere come in. We get a lot of visitors from Europe-Germany and England especially.

“I don’t take credit for it. The volunteer force here is just tremendous. I couldn’t have done anything without them.”

Cull believes that one of most important attributes of a successful museum curator is the ability to work effectively with volunteers. She understands instinctively that if people aren’t happy in their work, they won’t stick with it.

“It’s all about being observant,” she said, “and fitting people in with what they like to do. And then, too, a lot of these volunteers need a purpose in life. They need something to get up for in the morning. Volunteering fills the need for them to feel a part of something, part of a family, because a lot of them move here and their families aren’t here and they need that support. So there’s more to it than just working here. They feel they are doing something worthwhile for the community. All around, it’s a win-win situation.”

Cull also credits the generous support of the city and of community groups such as the Cape Coral Community Foundation, the Florida Questers, a non-profit, historical research and preservation group, and many, many others for the growth of the museum. She admires, as well, the contributions of her husband.

“My husband, Fred, has done so much. He has supported me all along. He was publisher of The Breeze for about 15 years and he was the director of the Cape Coral Caring Center. We both worked for non-profits, so he helped with fund raising. We’ve enjoyed working for the community. It’s been very rewarding. I feel we’ve left something here to be carried on.

“I’m so proud of what we’ve accomplished with the museum, but I think now it’s time for me to pass the torch to the next generation. I’m excited to see what’s going to happen.”

Preserving history is important to Anne Cull, for she believes that “If you lose your history, you lose your identify.” On a very personal level, she attributes who she is today to the experiences of her early childhood.

“I was in London during the Blitz.” (The German blitzkrieg, or “lightening war” on London, began on Sept. 7, 1940, when 348 German bombers, escorted by 617 fighter planes, rained bombs down on London for over 12 consecutive hours. Day and night bombing of the city continued for the next eight months.) “We went through all the air raids.”

Her father (“a gentle, gentle Irishman” from Belleek, Ireland) was in the British army and her mother (“a strong, out-spoken woman” from Galway) was in London with their four children.

“I remember one time my brother ran out to look at a German bomber and my mother ran out and threw herself on top of him. When a bombing raid started, Mother used to get the two older ones ready and out the door first. They knew where to go and people would pick them up and run with them. And then she’d run with me-I was two and my little sister was about 6 months old. Once, she got to shelter and they slammed the door and the two older ones weren’t there. She couldn’t get out. She had to spend all night in that shelter, wondering. Someone had pulled them into a building before the bomb dropped. Another night my mother said I cried and cried to go to the shelter, so she gave in, and when we came back our house was blitzed. We would all have been killed.

“We children were evacuated. My sister and I went to Ireland. My brother went to Wales and my other sister to Somerset. So we were all separated and didn’t see each other for like four years. I saw my mother once the whole time. She had to stay in London because women all had to work for the war effort.

“So I think that’s part of my being who I am. That experience made me fight for life. I don’t know how to describe it. It made me strong enough to take on something like this. And it gave me an appreciation of life.”

It is not easy for Cull to leave the museum. “I will miss the people the most. I’ve had great relationships with the volunteers and I’m going to be sad to leave them, but I’m not going far. I will still be on the Board in an advisory capacity and I will be on hand if I am needed. My heart is here, so I am not going far.”

For more information about the Cape Coral Historical Society Museum, including hours of operation and upcoming events, please visit capecoralhistoricalmuseum.org or call 239-772-7037.