May 12--When Elliott Levy talks about his upcoming retirement, he sounds more like a giddy new high school graduate than a man easing into his twilight years.
"There are so many things I want to do," he declared during an interview last week at the Aiken County Historical Museum.
Levy's last day as the facility's executive director is May 30. Soon afterward, he and his wife, Dr. Marlene Groman, will go to Maine and spend a few months. Then they'll return to Aiken, and Levy will plunge enthusiastically back into promoting the city's rich past.
"I need to do full-length feature movie or a DVD about Tommy Hitchcock Jr.," Levy said. "He was a man of international stature who had an impact on and saved thousands of Allied lives (in World Wars I and II). He was a true American hero, and lot of people don't realize that."
Levy is the vice president of the Friends of the Gaston Livery Stable, so the work restoring that Aiken landmark will help keep him busy. He plans to fill other hours by giving speeches about the days of yore to a variety of different groups in the area.
"If I'm offered the opportunity to be a docent here at the museum, I'd like to give tours one day week," Levy said. "Maybe I'll do some landscaping here, too, because I'll be able to spend more time on the grounds."
Levy, 67, has been running the museum since September 2006. Prior to then, he lived in Maine and served as the executive director of the Poland Spring Preservation Society, which maintains the Maine State Building and All Souls Chapel. He also was an adjunct member of the faculty at Central Maine Community College.
Earlier in 2006, Levy and his wife had purchased a house in Aiken so they could take breaks from Maine's cold winter weather. But after Gorman got laid off from her job, the appeal of living in the South on a more long-term basis grew.
Levy learned about the opening at the Aiken County Historical Museum from a friend.
"I applied figuring that I had no chance at all," he said. "I thought, 'There is no way they're going to hire some Northerner.' During my interview, I told the Aiken County Historical Commission, ' If you want to micromanage me, we can end this interview right now because I don't do micromanaging.' I also was the oldest candidate. But they took a chance on me, and I was very flattered. It was a great opportunity."
When Levy took over, the museum was like a huge attic filled with a bunch of odds and ends.
"In some rooms, there was stuff that covered three centuries all mixed together," Levy said. "There was no order or flow."
Levy began doing some organizing, and he also did some research. What he discovered about Aiken and the surrounding county amazed him.
"I wasn't the kid in the candy shop; I was the kid in the candy factory," he said. "Every time I turned around, I uncovered something else. Ah, Fred Astaire was here. And, oh my goodness, Bing Crosby was, too. And John Jacob Astor. There were all these names that were so important in American history, and there were so many amazing stories."
During the first two months of his tenure, Levy created a Ladies of Aiken room to recognize the city's prominent women, and he revamped the golf exhibit. As time went on, he added displays about the people and events in nearby towns such as Graniteville and Wagener. Levy also made the museum a place where in-depth information about pottery, the Savannah River Site and other local topics of interest could be found.
In addition, Levy encouraged various organizations to meet at the museum.
"It's important for people in Aiken County to realize that this is their museum," Levy said. "It's also important for them to be aware that Aiken County is a unique and special place."
In January, Owen Clary, who is the chairman of the Aiken County Historical Commission, praised Levy for making the museum a "vibrant part" of the community.
"This has been a wonderful experience, and I wouldn't have traded it for anything," Levy said. "But I'd like to put my energies into some other challenges while I'm still able to. I never want to look back and think, 'Oh, I wish I had done this' or 'I never got to do that.' "
Dede Biles is a general assignment reporter for the Aiken Standard and has been with the newspaper since January 2013. A native of Concord, N.C., she is a graduate of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
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