New curator takes over at Renfrew

June 27, 2003|by RICHARD F. BELISLE

The committee seeking a replacement for Jeffrey Bliemeister as director and curator of the Renfrew Museum and Park had to wade through 90 applications before settling on James A. Ross.

Ross, 31, a native of Tunkhannock, Pa., comes to Renfrew from a similar post at the Historic Rock Ford Plantation in Lancaster County, Pa., a facility similar in nature to Renfrew in that it is a house museum on a farm.

The search committee, which included David Hykes, George Buckey and James Oliver, advertised the job primarily on the Internet, Hykes said.


"We had 90 applicants from Canada and across the United States," Hykes said.

He said 12 applicants were called for interviews. Four applicants withdrew from the process and eight were interviewed.

Hykes said the committee liked Ross because of his enthusiasm, his experience in the field, realistic view of Waynesboro and outgoing demeanor. The committee saw him as someone who would feel comfortable going out into the community to promote Renfrew.

Another incentive, Hykes said, was the fact that Ross' wife, Amy Kitzmiller Ross, grew up in Chambersburg, Pa. She is a school teacher and will look for a job in Franklin County. The couple has no children.

"She's been trying to get back here for a long time," Ross said of his wife.

The search committee also felt that Ross would stay on the job because of his wife's ties to the area.

"We all said we don't want to do this again in a few years," Hykes said.

It costs about $200,000 a year to run the museum and park. Dips in the stock market and interest rates have cut into Renfrew's funds, Hykes said. Among Ross' duties will be fund-raising and grant writing, he said.

Ross said he was impressed with Renfrew the first time he walked its 107-acre grounds and saw its historic buildings. It was after he had sent in his application, but before he knew he was going to be called for an interview, he said.

All he could think of was the opportunities the museum and park offered, he said. The possibilities for preservation and interpretation were countless, he said.

"There is a lot of property here that is undeveloped and it has great stability," Ross said. "The main house is finished and it's full of antiques."

A crew from the Pennsylvania Conservation Corps will start to renovate the Fahnestock House at Renfrew next month. A two-story farmhouse, when it's finished, will become a site for living history demonstrations, Ross said.

After high school, Ross spent four years in the Coast Guard in Cape May, N.J., and three years in Alaska, including Valdez and Cordova.

His interest in history began when he was a child on family visits to historic sites, he said. His specialty is American history from the late 1700s to the early 1800s.

He earned a degree in American history from Bloomsburg (Pa.) University after his Coast Guard hitch and began his professional career as a museum educator for the Fort Myers (Fla.) Historical Museum.

He was next hired as a public programs coordinator for the Manassas (Va.) Museum System of seven historic sites, then went to Rock Ford Plantation.

Bliemeister resigned in January.

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