By GLENDA CAUDLE
Special Features Editor
For Polly Brasher, Discovery Park of America’s new education director, the dream “job” began in 2006. That is when she began work as a volunteer coordinator for the project that came to be known as Discovery Park of America.
It is a title she retained until mid-summer of 2010. In July of that year, she was asked to assume the duties of collections coordinator for the immense effort taking place next door to Goodyear Tire & Rubber Company’s sprawling Union City plant. As the new year rang in for 2012, she was named director/exhibits.
The education director title and job responsibilities came exactly a year later.
In addition, she has been serving as the West Tennessee representative on the board of directors of the Tennessee Association of Museums since March 22 of this year.
Mrs. Brasher is already hard at work making contact with schools and responding to their excitement as she provides them with information about programs they will be interested in for their students when DPA opens its doors early in the 2013-14 school year. A former teacher herself, she knows the value of allowing children and teens to explore outside the classroom and will be using her expertise to ensure the field trips she schedules for educators across multiple states will enhance what is going on within school buildings and make the trips well worthwhile for everyone involved.
As a seventh generation educator with 24 years of teaching experience in both the public and private sectors, Mrs. Brasher has had her eye on the prize that DPA offers since she first met Robert Kirkland and heard about his dream in 2004. The project has always identified itself with the goal of educating and entertaining, and it is just such a plan that convinced Mrs. Brasher she needed to commit herself whole-heartedly to the success of the venture.
Born in Memphis, the former Polly Eakin was raised in Obion County and grew up understanding the value of work. She helped out in her mother Marti Eakin Doss’ photography studio in downtown Union City from the time she was 8 years old and was soon making bicycle-fueled deliveries for her father’s small appliance repair shop, as well.
She also learned what makes life work in the country when she visited her grandparents near Rives.
After filling her four years at Obion County Central High School with college prep classes and a variety of club activities, she spent a year at the University of Tennessee at Martin and then changed her major and her college when she realized she wanted to pass on lessons learned to young minds.
As a college student, she won an art award and was published in Southern Exposure, a photography magazine.
Even before she gained her diploma, she was teaching in the private sector. After claiming her degree and two teaching certificates from Arkansas State University in Jonesboro, she taught various levels and combinations of art, English, journalism and drama for 24 years.
As a teacher, she delighted in traveling with her students to give them a chance to see the art, architecture and museum jewels in locations far larger than their rural West Tennessee surroundings.
On one memorable trip to Chicago, she watched with delight as students — some of whom had never been outside Obion County before — opened bus windows and wedged their faces into the openings to get better glimpses of the sky scrapers they were passing, even though it was snowing and was bitterly cold.
“I love teaching and working with people, and I love that Mr. Kirkland chose Union City as the recipient of this wonderful gift. Years before meeting Mr. Kirkland, I wished we had a venue to bring outstanding exhibits to this area, and now we do,” she says.
The eternal educator, who also enjoys church music ministry and collecting art, particularly the work of artists she is able to meet, Mrs. Brasher is always excited by the opportunity to see new places and explore historical sites. The past few years’ involvement with DPA has already given her many opportunities to do just that.
Her goals, she says, include providing many different experiences for students of different grade levels so that there will always be something new for them to enjoy on a visit to DPA. She also understands the challenge school systems face in providing affordable field trips and says she will be working with teachers and administrators to help solve some of those funding problems.
“We will be looking for docents and educational tour leaders who are able to conduct fun and interesting lessons with various ability levels,” Mrs. Brasher says.
Her biggest challenge, she thinks, will be scheduling for the wide array of interests, attention spans, learning models and abilities to interact with the sources of information available in the multi-million dollar, 50-acre complex on Union City’s northwest side.
“I wish my third grade teacher could see me now; she would be absolutely amazed,” says the soft-spoken and gently smiling educator. “I wanted to be part of the Christmas program, and she didn’t want to give me any lines. I asked her, please, to give me a part, and she said, ‘No one will ever hear you.’
“I promised to speak loudly. She had every right to her stance, as I rarely spoke loud enough for her to hear me in the small classroom. I persisted, and she finally gave me one line. I remember clearly that when it was my turn to speak, someone hurried over with a microphone so that my line would not be lost. The entire school performed that day, but I was the only student who had to speak into the microphone.
“Now I speak for a living — one person, small groups or hundreds in an auditorium — and I do believe my third grade teacher would be very pleased.”
Pleasing teachers — and their students — is a goal Mrs. Brasher embraces with enthusiasm and an ability that promises to be a major asset to DPA.
Published in The Messenger 5.2.13