MONTGOMERY, Ala. (WSFA) - Maybe it was just meant to be.
Collier Neeley grew up around Old Alabama Town in downtown Montgomery. Even as a kid he could probably give the tours himself. His grandmother Mary Ann Neeley was the executive director of the Landmarks Foundation from 1979-2003. The foundation is a community preservation organization and history museum at the same time.
“We spent a lot of time down here with her," said Collier Neeley, talking about his grandmother. "It was kind of a playground for me growing up. So we got to learn a good bit about the building, just being here and hanging with my grandmother.”
For him, it was a place to escape and get lost in history, and he had the best tour guide possible.
“Everybody knew her."
When it comes to Old Alabama Town History, Mary Ann Neeley was the source. Sadly a few years ago she passed away after some complications after she took a fall. Her 29-year old grandson Collier felt a calling.
“I never even thought I would be here, but now I’m like ‘duh’ that makes perfect sense.”
So last year he took over on an interim basis, holding the same position his grandmother worked in for almost 25 years. He picked up a lot of training along the way. He had a very special relationship with his grandmother, and couldn’t help but notice why she made such a difference.
“But I think the biggest thing was how to listen. How to let people engage history in their own story, in a way that gives them ownership, but they learn as well,” Neeley said.
So how would grandma feel about him taking over?
“She had this really unique smile. I know she’s smiling, no doubt about it. It’s big to sit in her chair and make the decisions she was making. I definitely wish she was around to help me out, but I think I’ve learned enough, we will get through this.”
So now, some of the oldest parts of Montgomery have some new blood to help it thrive and move forward.
If you’d like to learn more about Old Alabama Town to see how it operates or make a donation, just check out its website.