The John Updike Society board of directors unanimously approved Alvernia University professor Susan Guay to serve as director of The John Updike Childhood Home in Shillington, Pa. Her appointment is effective immediately.
Society president James Plath made the announcement on Tuesday, October 10, at the house on 117 Philadelphia Ave. where Updike lived from 1932-45. “It was important to have someone local who can make decisions and be the go-to person in Shillington,” Plath said. “Although as president I will still be involved with the house, this was the first step toward creating regular hours for the house museum and literary center moving forward and getting the house and society more involved in community affairs.
“Sue lives 10 minutes from the house, while I have to drive 12 hours to get here. We really did need to appoint a local director once we neared the end of the restoration phase, and Sue knows how to get things done.”
Plath said that Guay was an obvious choice. “She’s knowledgeable about Updike, she’s well liked within the society, she’s well known and respected in the Reading community, and she shares our passion for this project.”
Guay was the impetus behind Alvernia University reaching out to the society shortly after it was formed. At Guay’s suggestion, Alvernia offered to host the first conference, and she was also instrumental in the running of that first successful conference in October 2010. Later, when the society returned to Reading and Shillington for their third biennial conference, Guay served as site director, Plath said.
Guay is Assistant Professor of English and Communications at Alvernia University, where she has taught for 17 years.
“I look at this as an opportunity to enhance our department at the university and to continue to build a strong relationship with the society,” Guay told Reading Eagle correspondent Bruce R. Posten. As director, one of her primary tasks will be to run the museum, and that means training guides to give tours of the Updike house and establishing regular hours. She will also be the “face” of the society and the house in the community, Plath said.
Plath will continue to serve as virtual landlord—the society rents space to David W. Ruoff Financial Services in order to have a daily presence at the house—and he will continue to raise funds and work with Guay and curatorial consultants to create exhibits for the new house museum. With interior work completed, the house alarm system has been activated and the transformation to museum begins.
The society already has some donations to display in the house, but is looking for more—especially an upright Chickering piano from the turn of the century to 1922 (when the Hoyers bought the house), Reading-Shillington objects and memorabilia from the years the Updikes lived in the house (1932-45), items purchased from the Linda Updike auction in Plowville, and, of course, anything related to John Updike.
The interior of the Updike house is now completely restored, with only a slate kitchen sink and a Tiffany-style lamp to be installed once authentic and historically accurate ones can be found. Outside, R.J. Doerr, the restoration experts who have been transforming the house, have only a side porch to complete. Tours of the house will soon resume, Plath said.
“This is exciting, Guay said.” She is pictured above looking through some of the items that the society has received for display. Anyone with items to donate should contact Guay via email: firstname.lastname@example.org.