Waterville Historical Society Hires First Executive Director

Dennis Jones was hired as the Waterville Historical Society’s first executive director. MIRROR PHOTO BY KAREN GERHARDINGER

BY KAREN GERHARDINGER | MIRROR REPORTER — As Dennis Jones met with 16 area leaders in a focus group, one fact became clear: the Waterville Historical Society needs make some big changes in order to survive and thrive. Those changes include reaching a younger audience and communicating its assets to a broader market. “The historical society has had its light under a bushel basket,” Jones said. “People recognize that the historical society is here, but know nothing about it – such as where the historical museums are, or what goes on inside the Wakeman.” Founded 53 years ago, the WHS owns the Robbins House, Sargent House and Cobbler Shop on South River Road, as well as Wakeman Hall and its historical archives on Farnsworth Road. At first, WHS board members began discussing how to raise the $170,000 to make major repairs to the Sargent House’s foundation. Then discussion turned to the big picture, said Diana Waugh. That includes a need to bring history into classrooms and hosting events that engage all ages. “We have a whole list of stuff we want to do, but who can commandeer any of this,” she asked. Waugh called on Jones, who had worked on the Browning Masonic Community’s Pathways fundraising campaign, and asked if he would help give the historical society some direction on how to raise funds and promote the organization. While the WHS has never had an executive director, the need for one became clear in the process. “There’s no point person to call for the historical society, like I would call the Waterville Chamber and talk to Corina Pfleghaar,” Waugh said. So when Jones told the board that the WHS needed a director – and threw his name in the hat as a possible candidate, the board said yes. “We’re very pleased with him in organizing the fundraising drive,” said WHS president Jim Conrad. It’s a big step for an all-volunteer, nonprofit organization. “We decided that we needed to go big or go home,” Waugh said. As an executive director, Jones will serve as the center point – someone driving the charge. That includes a capital campaign of $500,000 to fund renovations to museums and traveling programming to bring history into schools and the community. “Job No. 1 is building community awareness,” said Jones. Since starting on May 1, Jones has been meeting volunteers, learning about assets and working on a long-term promotion. Working together with merchants and the city, the WHS can help draw more out-of-town visitors into Waterville, he said. The WHS needs to make history more fun and exciting – more alive than just looking at some artifacts, he said. “We need to really connect with young people so they bring their parents,” he said. Thankfully, the WHS has a large group of dedicated volunteers who are willing to work. Expanding that base is another facet of his plan. “We’ll try creative ways to engage new people in special committees and take advantage of their unique talents,” he said. Jones has over 35 years of experience in fundraising and promotions, including raising $5 million in 10 months for a Michigan psychiatric rehabilitation center. He’s served as director of fundraising for the MS Society of New York and VP of the capital campaign for United Way in Southeast Michigan. As executive director, Jones will be paid $2,500 a month, or $30,000 a year, Conrad said. To reach Jones, call (419) 276-4674 or e-mail watervillehistory@gmail.com.

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