By Kimberly R. Smith
Kermit Brown has led an interesting life steeped in history and adventure.
He retired in 1994 after a long career working in Florida’s museums. In 2011, he took up archery and recently competed in the National Senior Games.
Brown is a familiar face at the Tallahassee Senior Center, where he lectures on history and writing. His zest for life and learning is inspiring. Read more about Brown in this Q and A with Kimberly R. Smith.
I hear you’re the “Lunch and Learn Guy” at the Senior Center. How did you make this name for yourself?
I lecture for many of the Senior Center Lunch and Learns. They found me through my work experience at Mission San Luis, where I interpreted life as a carpenter from the 1600s.
In addition to building furniture for all of the houses, the church and the fort using period correct tools and methods, I conducted tours and outreach programs in schools. And so most of my Lunch and Learns are about Florida history.
Even though I get to talk about anything now, and there are about 13 topics I have covered, most of the time it’s Florida history. That’s my favorite. And encouraging seniors to write. To date, I have sold 300 or so copies of a self-published book of short stories I wrote from memories of growing up in Apalachicola. I’m working on more. I think it is important to share where we’ve come from.
Did your career prepare you to be a public speaker? What did you do prior to retiring?
As a kid, I went to every museum I could. When I learned that some museums had a shop in the back where their exhibits were made on site? Yes! I knew it was for me. At the time, a degree wasn’t necessary to work for a museum. My father, a boat builder, passed on a problem-solving skillset I needed to leave my childhood town of Apalachicola and join the staff at the Florida Museum of Natural History in Gainesville.
Eight years later, in 1967, my career in museums brought me to Tallahassee. I set up the first exhibit workshops – where exhibits are fabricated to be installed, then maintained – for the Museum of Florida History, the Old Capitol and Mission San Luis. Sometimes, we worked alongside archaeologists. Eighteen plus years of changing out exhibits, spending so much time reading exhibit copy day after day, that’s where my memory comes from.
Sounds like you kept really busy. Did you ever get into volunteering?
Being an Eagle Scout, then a scout master, I received an invitation in 1989 to the Woodbadge Leadership Course. Basically, I taught adults to work with the Boy Scouts. Then I was invited to be on the Woodbadge staff. In 1997, four years after retiring from the museum, I became director of the course.
Between 2005 and 2010, my wife, Dianne, and I guided wilderness canoe trips. Our longest trip has been about 200 miles. In fact, back when we first met, it was because of a long trip hitching together out West through many national parks, all the way to California, that we figured we were right for each other. We have been married 43 years now.
If you could tell your younger self one thing, what would it be? Do more. Sure, I have done a lot, but a good bit of it, I started later on. Why not start sooner to learn new things, to pursue interests?
I hear you also enjoy archery? Isn’t archery one of the events in the Senior Games?
I’ve been doing barebow recurve archery competitively since 2011.
It is through the Senior Games at the Senior Center that I qualify for the state and national archery championships. I have won 14 gold medals so far, including five state championships (for other states). I placed sixth at my first National Senior Olympics, and then bronze two years later. I qualified for the 2017 National Games, too. It will be one of the closer Games, taking place just outside of Birmingham, Alabama this June 7-8.
What motivates you to stay active?
I practice archery on my own and with a group throughout the week and do other exercise. I participate in events to promote my book. Dianne and I had a goal to retire at 50. Trying to live off only the largest of our two incomes and getting only what we needed worked for us. I’ve been retired since 1994.
There have been a lot of changes in recreation and entertainment since then, and especially during your lifetime. What changes stand out to you the most?
I remember being young without electricity .… I don’t have a smart phone or iPad and I prefer to keep it that way. I do have a computer. We can’t do anything anymore without one. I enjoy being able to find and read online books that are out of print. I’m thankful for this. And for the times my wife helps me get through all the tough, yes or no pop-up questions.