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Reflections on Twenty Years at Dallas Heritage Village

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After twenty years, my departure from Dallas Heritage Village has been so gradual that it is hard to say just when my last day was. But it is certainly evident that the leadership succession plan that Melissa Prycer and I worked out two years ago has already been a terrific success. Melissa hit the ground running from her first days as Interim Director, and by the time she was named President and Executive Director almost 18 months ago, she was operating at full speed.

While my official last day is obscured, I can certainly remember my first day at DHV (then Old City Park) on the Monday after Thanksgiving in 1995. Before I had even poured my first cup of coffee I had plunged into the groundbreaking festivities surrounding the new Chautauqua Pavilion, and the preparations for Candlelight. It was a hectic beginning, but also an ideal way to get to know the board, the staff, our volunteers, and the physical layout of the Village. Somehow that first Candlelight I found time to walk around the Village, soaking up my first special event experience, and marveling at my good fortune. Twenty years later, I still feel this way (although I will admit that every walk around the Village still results in a list of maintenance problems).

 

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There is nothing like closing out your office and rediscovering old files to help give you perspective on what you have been doing all of these years. One thing is very clear to me: I have been blessed by working with an amazing group of staff, trustees, and volunteers. I am grateful to have known so many great people, and although it makes me nervous to compose a list of my heroes (for fear of leaving important people out), I want to take this opportunity to remember some very key people .

  • Our founding generation, especially Lindalyn Adams, Mary Lynn McEntire, Ruth Ann Montgomery, and Lynn Vogt. My tenure came at a time when the founding generation was still active in the museum, and I have cherished my time with them.
  • The Guild. There are too many wonderful people here to mention individually, but the Guild’s steadfast, self-sufficient support is incredibly valuable. Plus, they make great cookies!
  • The Fan Club—a wonderful group of women whose loyal support we can always count on.
  • Charles and Regina Pistor—who generated lots of resources as well as advice and support whenever I needed it.
  • Marie and John Chiles—Marie was our leader for the Curator’s Circle Travel Program for many years, and also racked up countless hours of volunteer work on other projects.
  • Gail Plummer, Mark Singer, Mike Albright, and Jolene Masur—loyal friends and supporters over many years
  • Don Baynham will always be remembered for his good-humored leadership, his constant willingness to take on projects no one else wanted and—his amazing collection of neckties!

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  • Ann Phy, who has been with us for more than 40 years, is a constant source of wise advice. She is also the most loyal of trustees, and has attended almost every activity we have scheduled in the past 40 years!
  • Kelly Dybala—willing to step up and take on difficult leadership positions, even while having babies and running a thriving law practice.
  • Nancy Farina and Mary Keil both put in twenty years of dedicated work, and were part of my core staff for most of my tenure. Their steady work and wise perspective not only helped me, but helped guide the organization.

The other benefit of rediscovering old files is it gives you a chance to reflect on your own work. Here are some of the things I value the most from the past twenty years:

  • Our careful cultivation of friends at City Hall resulted in the allocation of almost $3 million in bond and other special city funds—and that was in addition to our yearly allocation. These funds took care of many infrastructure needs that simply could not have been done otherwise: new storm sewers, fencing around most of our property, ADA improvements to pathways and buildings, the closing of Gano Street, the uniting of our various land parcels, and our new parking and entrance on Harwood.
  • The name change to Dallas Heritage Village, which helped transition our image from an old park containing historic buildings to the modern, nationally-accredited history museum in a park that it is.
  • Taking the museum through accreditation with the American Alliance of Museums twice. Nationwide, only a relatively small percentage of history museums are accredited.
  • Ending the focus on acquiring more buildings and focusing instead on constructing sheds, barns, outhouses, fences and gardens—all of which gives the place more of an authentic and educational atmosphere.
  • Introducing animals—cows, goats, chickens and, of course, Nip and Tuck, our Mammoth Jack Donkeys!
  • Surviving two recessions. The 2008-2009 recession was especially hard, but we cut expenses while continuing core programs (like school tours, Candlelight, and Old Fashioned Fourth). We weathered the storm and then put ourselves in position for the next phase of our growth, including adopting a leadership succession plan.
  • I am most proud of cultivating and supporting the development of my eventual successor, Melissa Prycer. Working together, and gaining the support of our Board, we implemented a rare and successful leadership succession plan. Very few museums have done this. In Melissa Prycer, we have an amazing new leader who has already packed a career’s worth of experience into her eleven years at DHV. I could not feel better about our future.

 

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Dallas Heritage Village has paid me the ultimate honor of naming me a life member of the board of trustees. As I leave my leadership role of the past twenty years, I am grateful to still be a part of the governance of this great museum. And of the things I am looking forward to now is being able to walk our beautiful grounds without automatically making a maintenance list!

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