Jennifer Kuykendall left Goldsboro 30 years ago, but has recently returned with one goal -- to make the Wayne County Museum more representative of Wayne County. That's her passion.
As the new museum director -- she took the job the middle of December -- she hopes to bring about a really positive change at the museum.
Kuykendall, 51, came to Goldsboro from Tulsa, Okla., to attend Eastern Wayne High School her senior year, graduating in 1985.
"Then I moved to St. Louis, and lived there 28 years," she said. "I worked for the St. Louis Art Museum for eight years and then went to the Missouri Botanical Garden for almost 15 years."
Kuykendall took semi-retirement and began working for an auction house and vintage clothing company. She traveled around the country doing vintage clothing shows, like the Manhattan Vintage Show. And she sold vintage-type clothing to different designer companies.
"It was really interesting," she said.
During her years away from Goldsboro, Kuykendall returned frequently to visit her mother, who still lives here.
"In the last couple of years, I've been back more because I was semi-retired," she said. "And my mom broke her ankle and was kind of an invalid for almost a year. So I came back every few months and stayed a couple weeks to help her out."
During those visits, Kuykendall began to notice how Goldsboro had changed.
"It was really, really different with the historic district and downtown," she said. "The city has undergone this renaissance. It's a totally different city than it was when I left 30 years ago. There's amazing places to eat. There's so much to do. I just fell in love with Goldsboro, and I never anticipated that."
So when the museum director position came open, Kuykendall knew she was in the right place at the right time.
The museum is a good fit for Kuykendall because she has always loved old things and old architecture.
"My grandparents and my mom collected antiques," she said. "I used to spend my allowance buying old junk at flea markets.
"I have an affinity for old stuff. It's been a lifelong passion. And I love museums, history and art."
In her new job as museum director, Kuykendall wears a lot of hats.
"You have to plan the exhibitions, execute the exhibitions," she said. "With just a two-person staff, we mop the floors, refill the toilet paper and do rentals. It has to be a labor of love."
Kuykendall said the Wayne County Museum is an underutilized gem.
At a time when Goldsboro is having a rebirth, she hopes she can do the same for the museum.
"I hope to make the museum more inclusive and more relevant to the community," Kuykendall said. "A lot of people don't know we're here. We want to have a lot more stuff for kids to get younger families in. We're going to have a kids' area that's going to have a model train going around the top."
Programs are going to change.
The building might get a facelift inside and out.
Kuykendall had not been to the museum herself since she was in high school.
"Because it's right near my house, I passed it all the time," she said. "Two or three times I thought I should go in and see what's going on in there. But I didn't. So I know how people can drive by and think it's a cool little building and still not go in.
"I think that's the challenge we have, to get people in. We're working on our social media to get more people in. But we face the same challenge that all museums do. You have a membership base that starts to die off. You have to figure out how to get younger people, and especially young families, in to increase your membership. You have to evolve and grow."
One thing new that Kuykendall wants to do is have a fall harvest festival because agriculture is so important to Wayne County and its history.
At Christmas, she's planning to do holiday traditions and be more inclusive of the cultures that call Wayne County home.
"I didn't realize how historically diverse Goldsboro was," Kuykendall said. "We have a huge Jewish, Lebanese, Filipino population. The Chinese population came with the railroad. So we want to explore holiday traditions of these different cultures of Goldsboro. We want to have holiday recipes and maybe do some cooking demonstrations.
And the community can help. When the museum has upcoming exhibits, anyone in the community with items pertaining to the topic of the exhibit can loan them to the museum.
"And if the community knows something we don't for an exhibit, they could call us," Kuykendall said. "An awful lot of doing this job is detective work. You have to be super tenacious and stick with it, but it's fun. It's fascinating.
"I hope that I can bring about really positive change here."