The National WASP WWII Museum recently welcomed its new Executive Director, Michael Ables.
Ables started his official duties as the Museum Director on May 1, 2014. "This is an opportunity not a lot of people will ever have," he said. "The topic of these women, their artifacts, their stories â€” they're amazing. I knew from day one turning in my application that I would jump at this opportunity, given the chance."
The museum houses a large collection of WWII artifacts belonging to the Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASP) that trained at Avenger Field during WWII. The museum began in 2002 with the vision of two women, WASP Deanie Bishop Parrish and her daughter, Nancy Parrish. The hangar that houses the museum was originally built in 1929, and it served as the first Sweetwater Municipal Airport. The grand opening of the museum took place on May 28, 2005 â€” the anniversary of the first graduating class of WASP 62 years earlier.
"We're so glad Michael is here with us," said Carol Cain, WASP Museum Administrator. "With his museum background and experience, we're even more excited for the future of the museum."
"This is a great environment and I'm excited to be here," Ables added. "Everyone has been so welcoming and I'm looking forward to interacting more with the people of Sweetwater."
The expansion has been an ongoing project at the WASP Museum for some time now. New exhibits have been added and will continue to be added. "Because of the amount of growth this past year, we've had to rent a building to house many of our artifacts," said Cain. "We needed someone very organized to help categorize the artifacts and create new exhibits. Michael is just the person we needed."
The National WASP WWII Museum strives to paint a complete picture of the first women to fly military air craft. The museum is dedicated to preserving the stories of the WASP, as well as honoring their memory and sacrifice. The museum is recognized locally, state-wide and nationally.
"The board and museum as a whole are so delighted to have someone capable of leadership and with the technical ability that we have needed so badly for so long," said Cain. "Because of Michael's experience, we will be able to do many more educational programs that we haven't been able to do in the past."
Ables received his Associates Degree in Liberal Arts and Sciences in 2004 from Hutchinson Community College in Kansas. He then went on to Wichita State University (WSU) in Kansas where he received his Bachelor of Arts in Art History (2008) before completing his education with a Master of Arts in Liberal Studies with an emphasizes in Museum Studies (2012).
Before coming to Sweetwater, Ables worked for the International Museum of Cultures in Dallas as the Director of Educational Programming, the Ulrich Museum of Art at WSU as the Assistant Curator of Exhibition, and the Lowell D. Holmes Museum of Anthropology at WSU as the Curator and the vanguard of their educational outreach program. Ables also worked as the Project Manager at an Art Handling Co., as and Adjunct Professor for a semester, and taught Art History Survey I for the Spring Semester at Houston Community College.
"Passion drives people," said Ables. "This has been a passion of mine for some time. I knew at a fairly young age that I wanted to do something like this.â€ť Ables is also an artist and enjoys sketching, wood carving and painting. â€śIn fact, ever since I was little, I've been sketching," Ables added. "I still have old sketch books stored away.â€ť
Ables initially went to college to become a graphic designer, then transitioned into art history and by graduate school focused solely on museums. â€śI always knew I wanted to be affiliated with art and museums, I just didnâ€™t know to what capacity."
Ables is currently focusing the majority of his time and energy sorting through the artifacts housed in the archive, located at 900 E. 15th Street. "It's literally a treasure hunt," said Ables. "So many things are in this collection. In fact, a U.S. flag was discovered that came from the USS Arizona. Parachutes, uniforms, caps, flight logs â€” these are just a few of the things I've found. I'm also coming across artifacts I've never seen before."
The expansion of the museum is a major goal that all involved are striving for. Other goals include tours for school groups, traveling educational exhibits and generating more community interest and involvement in the museum. "I'm brand new, so I don't know the level of involvement from the citizens of Sweetwater, but I'd love to have more people show interest and be a part of this museum," said Ables. "I want to let them know how much of an impact they can have."
The museum is always looking for volunteers to help in various aspects. "Volunteers are essentially the backbone to any museum, regardless of size," said Ables. For more information on volunteering, contact Michael at 236-6996 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Born in Topeka, Kansas, Ables moved to Cedar Hill, Texas at the age of five where his parents, Larry and Jeanie Ables, still reside. His older sister, Staci, currently lives in Waxahachie with her son and daughter, Max and Kelsea. Ablesâ€™ daughter, Macie Lynn, resides with her mother in Kansas.
On Saturday, May 24, the museum will celebrate their Ninth Annual WASP Homecoming. Several WASP will fly in for the event along with speakers Lt. Col. Leslie Hadley, USAF Pilot and Col. Sandy Opeka USAF Ret. Events for the day include free flights for kids (ages 8-17) by the EAA Young Eagles, Hangar Burgers and Fifi Fries, a luncheon at Texas State Technical College and a memorial ceremony, dinner and dance. Reservations are being accepted until May 15, online at www.waspmuseum.org or by phone at 325-235-0099.