Aziza Gali has been giving Winter Park History Museum tours since she was 5.
The Winter Park History Museum is full of little details. An old-school rotary phone rests next to a reading chair. The walls are lined with authentic 1940s-era wallpaper. Old church toys and building blocks rest in a child’s play room. The kitchen has a refrigerator with a spring pedal to open the door, revealing milk bottles inside.
But no one knows these details better than 8-year-old Aziza Gali, the youngest junior docent working at the Winter Park History Museum.
“It’s my first job,” Gali said. “I watched what my mom did and thought I could do it. So I did it.”
Gali has been a docent, also known as a tour guide, at the museum since she was 5 years old. It all started when her mother, Alisha Nicholl, visited Winter Park for the Christmas Parade.
“We’re from Oviedo and visited the museum years ago; it was full of trains,” said Nicholl, who now serves on the museum board as secretary. “I just walked up to (executive director Susan Skolfield) and said, ‘Do you need a volunteer?’ I decided to bring my daughter along on Saturdays instead of having a babysitter.”
In the beginning, Gali would play with other children while her mom gave tours. Little did Nicholl know, though, that her daughter was paying close attention.
“She randomly started showing adults around the museum,” said Nicholl. “I thought she had just been coloring with other kids, but she was really watching me and picked up my tour. When she was 5, she gave a 4-year-old a full tour of the museum, and I realized ‘Wow, you’re really paying attention to what I do in here.’”
The museum cycles through various historical exhibitions showcasing Winter Park’s past. For the past two years, the museum’s interior has been a wholly-authentic recreation of an early 1940s-era home with a living room, play area and kitchen.
“We completely delve into the theme,” Alisha said. “Everything in here is from the 1940s and is personally owned, donated or bought from yard sales. When we dive in, we dive in hard.”
After three years, Aziza knows all of the pieces that make up the exhibition, from the wind-up baking timer on the kitchen counter to the history of the treeline in a photo of marching soldiers on Park Avenue. One of her favorite things to do is show visitors how stepping on the refrigerator pedal will open the fridge.
“She loves history and reading, she loves learning,” Nicholl said. “I used to read books like ‘War and Peace’ to her when she was a newborn. When she started to crawl she headed towards the board books right away.”
Gali is quick to say that even though she’s only in second grade, she can read at a fifth-grade level. She reads nonfiction to learn as much as she can and picks a fiction book when she wants to have fun.
She’s particularly proud of her ability to use the Jacob’s Ladder puzzle in the playroom, something that took her mother four months to understand.
Nicholl appreciates the chance for her daughter to socialize when she is at her job. Gali’s made friends with other visiting children through her weekly tours.
The current exhibition wraps in April with a showcase of Winter Park’s historical hotels and motels taking its place. Gali and her mother already are beginning to prepare for the new exhibition by studying and watching documentaries.
“It just makes me smile to see her so into (the museum),” Nicholl said. “She loves reading; she loves all of this. She fully jumps into things with all her heart, it makes me so proud of her.”