In touch with the past, now moving forward

February 26, 2006|By Julie E. Greene

Mindy Marsden isn't tired of revisiting the past, but she wants to move on with her future.

Marsden, who has been executive director of the Washington County Historical Society for seven years, is retiring this summer. Exactly when her retirement takes effect depends on when her successor is in place, but Marsden says she will have moved on by the end of August for sure.

"This working for a living gets in the way of real life," says Marsden, 59, who lives north of Hagerstown with her husband, Jim.

With a history of active volunteering, Marsden wants to spend more time helping local organizations such as Breast Cancer Awareness of Cumberland Valley.


She also wants to do something at Antietam National Battlefield. For about four years she has served on the steering committee for Tolson's Chapel, a 19th-century church that served as Sharpsburg's first school for black children. The committee is working to restore the church.

Her retirement plans also include working in her organic garden and doing historical research, one of the things she's enjoyed about her job.

At the suggestion of Washington County historian John Frye, Marsden wants to expand a research paper she wrote a few years ago about Leitersburg from the 1820s to 1840s. She wants to do more research about the county during that time period.

Marsden took the job at the historical society in August 1999 after working as an elementary school teacher and as an accountant. She has a bachelor's degree in education and a master's degree in business.

While she says she was hired to be an administrator, she loves history and has enjoyed the research aspect of her job.

She averages at least one lecture a month, talking to just about every service group in Washington County, as well as other groups.

Her favorite topic is a slide show she does about dating old photographs based on what people are wearing.

"My problem is I'm most interested in everything," Marsden says. "I think it's just the amount of original material that's out there, that's available." That includes old store ledgers, letters, diaries and old newspapers.

Frye says Marsden astounded him with her knowledge of the 1918 flu epidemic in Washington County when she presented a lecture in November 2005 at the Washington County Free Library as part of the Robert H. McCauley Historical Lecture Series.

"She really did a great job," Frye says.

Marsden says she is most proud of helping to professionalize the organization by cataloging and organizing the historical society's collection of artifacts and maintaining The Miller House Museum, where the society is headquartered.

"I feel good about that," she says. "I'm passing the place on in pretty good shape."

Marsden says she wasn't as crazy about such aspects of her job as fundraising but that she enjoyed working with and meeting people.

Bill Soulis, the society's board president, says Marsden did a fantastic job managing the society and knowing the historical scene. The board hopes to have her successor hired by June so Marsden can do some training before she retires.

"She really connects with people very, very well," which is important in that job, Soulis says.

Marsden says she loves that her job is different every day and a lot of fun.

The historical society owns and operates The Miller House Museum on West Washington Street in downtown Hagerstown, the Simms B. Jamieson Genealogy Library in the museum's basement and the Beaver Creek School Museum.

Her duties include administrative work, planning, moving furniture, helping with exhibits and helping people with research involving genealogy and other topics.

Her retirement plans include spending more time on her own family's history.

"Mostly they're just farmers," she says. "They're not important, just good, solid yeomen farmers. Mainstay community people."

Just like Marsden.

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