Donors support their daughters' favorite museum, help build new learning spaces

The museum is excited to be opening its transformed first floor of the west wing this summer, including the Patrick F. Taylor Foundation Object Project, the SC Johnson Conference CenterDraper Spark!Lab, and the Jerome and Dorothy Lemelson Hall of Invention and Innovation, which will house Places of Invention.

Lauren Collette sat down with Craig and Sue Berrington, who were the initial supporters of and donors to these new learning spaces, to discuss the importance of the new education center and what inspired them to support the project and its early stages.

Susan and Craig Berrington

What were your first memories of the National Museum of American History? 
Craig: Sue and I started bringing our daughters to the museum frequently when we realized what a wonderful resource it was. I was a lawyer for the Labor Department and worked across the street. On Saturdays I would bring the girls into work to give mom some time to herself. After some time at the office, we would come to the museum to eat and to explore the exhibitions, and it was truly wonderful on so many levels.

Sue: Now our oldest daughter lives in California and has two teenage daughters. Every year when they come to visit, we dedicate one full day to exploring the Smithsonian. She told us years ago that she didn't realize what a treasure the Smithsonian—and especially this museum—is, so she also thinks it is important for her daughters to spend time here. I love seeing the tradition being passed down in our family.

Susan and Craig with their daughters at "Price of Freedom: Americans at War" exhibition

What sparked your interest in supporting the education and learning spaces at its initial stage?
Sue: I started my education career later in life in my mid-forties, teaching geography and world cultures to 7th grade students. As a former educator, what impresses me about the new learning spaces are the hands-on objects and activities. I love that the spaces have touchable objects so kids can actually engage, touch, and learn about history hands-on. It is wonderful to teach kids how bicycles were instrumental in the women's movement, or how refrigerators have changed our relationship to food. Even better, the objects and interactive areas will generate family conversations and inspire them to keep asking questions and learning as a family when they get home. The innovation that has gone into creating the new spaces is just extraordinary.

Craig: The new education spaces reflect Sue's enthusiasm, interests, and the effectiveness of how Sue used objects to teach her subjects. It is what makes me proud to be a part of this project from the beginning and see it come to fruition. The museum is making it fun to learn history by encouraging children of all ages to be creative and innovative, and that is truly groundbreaking.

Family on the museum's terrace

What did it mean to you to provide the museum its first gift for this project?
Craig: It means everything to us. First, Sue had a spectacular career as an educator and the opportunity to honor that by supporting the museum's education initiatives was important for us. Secondly, this museum played an important role in helping us raise our children and passing our heritage down to our children and grandchildren. We wanted to help continue that for ourselves and other families for the future. Last but not least, we have worked hard, but we have also been pretty lucky in life. We wanted to start supporting places that made a significant impact in our lives, and without a doubt, this museum has for our family.

What do you tell others about the museum when they ask about your involvement? 
Craig: We encourage them to support the museum. It is easy to take the Smithsonian for granted when you live here. However, when you do a bit of traveling in the nation or around the world, you know there is nothing like it. Although the museum works on bringing history to life, it is truly a gateway to the future, and it deserves all the support it can get.

The Berringtons's early faith and support helped make the learning spaces possible, and will help keep education to the forefront of the museum's goals for the future. Learn more about how you can help the museum advance its mission, either through a gift during your lifetime or a planned gift that will benefit the museum in the future.

Lauren Collette is the manager of the Smithsonian Council for American History.