Successful Alumni

New curator has ancestral ties
to Villa Louis

The following article about Susan Caya, who received her master's degree in history from UW-Eau Claire in May 2008, is reprinted with permission from the Prairie du Chien (Wis.) Courier Press. Caya is curator at Villa Louis,a Victorian country estate owned and maintained by the State Historical Society of Wisconsin.

Susan Caya
Susan Caya
(Prairie du Chien Courier Press photo)

Susan Caya, the new curator of interpretation and collections at Villa Louis, is excited to be returning to work as a curator at the site where she had served as a part-time tour guide since 1999, but she also has a very personal reason for her excitement: her own family history. Her great-great grandfather shows up on records as having purchased items from Hercules Dousman, and a great-great uncle was threshing on the Mill Coulee Farm, then owned by the Dousmans. Other family members also worked for the Dousmans.

Now, here she is, completing the circle, once again, in a sense, working for the Dousmans. "I’m very excited to have this position," she said, "As a part time tour guide I fell in love with the Dousmans and the house. I never expected to be a curator here."

In her new position, Caya’s duties include daily maintenance of the mansion and its collections, tours and tour guides, and special event programming.

According to director Michael Douglass, the curator position has been vacant for four years due to a lack of funding. Douglas said they had strong people in that position in the past, but he has since rewritten the job description to make it more focused on programs than previously. "We’re very happy to be able to hire for this position," he said, "It will enable use to increase our program offerings and explore new incomes."

Caya said she is looking at new special events to keep up attendance, and is also exploring new ways in which to use the collection. "We’d like to display things that people haven’t seen before and give them a reason to keep coming back."

Another goal, now that the house itself is almost completely restored, is to do more research on family members. Caya said she would particularly like to take a look at Jane Dousman, and would like to research all the children’s schooling, especially where they spent their high school years. She also hopes to obtain more information on the servants and their personal stories. "They were a very important part of this house and its history," she explained.

Caya has a degree in public history from UW-Whitewater and will receive a master's in history from UW-Eau Claire in May. Her hometown is Oregon, Wis., but her parents, George and Diane Caya, graduated from Seneca High School. She and her fiance, Charles Slusser, a history teacher in Oregon, plan an October wedding and then hope to settle somewhere in between to avoid a long commute for either of them.

In summing up her feelings about her new position, she says, "The Dousman history and collection are amazing; it’s exciting to be able to bring that to life and present it to the public. Prairie du Chien is a great place to work because it’s so rich in history—you’re surrounded by it."

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