“State of the Society” Address from Historical Society Board President Carl B. Rosencrance, Annual Dinner, April 2016
This is a particularly new addition to this program, which I hope my successor continues following the conclusion of my term as President in just a few short months. As the Commonwealth’s oldest historical society, I am proud and honored to be a part of this Annual Dinner, now in its 158th year. Our members are the life-blood of our organization and the mission is very simply to preserve and promote our county’s rich canvass of history. Our vast collection of artifacts and archival resources, as well as several historical properties and structures provide a dynamic outlet for the history buff in all of us.
That said, I am happy to report that the state of the Luzerne County Historical Society is strong and the outlook for our future has never been brighter. This does not seem possible given the fact that in the not-so-distant-past, this organization ran troubling operational deficits of an estimated $65,000 (in 2008-2009), $49,000 (2009-2010), and $30,000 (2010-2011) respectively. The need to offset such unacceptable losses resulted in a restructuring of staff, which was not easy, and not welcomed by some. The decision by the Board to make those changes directly resulted in the organization stopping the financial bleed that was underway during those years.
Since those difficult times, the staff has managed to continue without an Executive Director, working closely with Board’s Executive Committee. I would like to acknowledge those staff members as follows: Amanda Fontenova (Director of Library and Archives), Mark Riccetti (Director of Operations and Special Events), Allyson Earl (Library and Museum Assistant), and Mary Walsh (Bookeeper). Robert Schertzer is a long-term volunteer who has been a big help, as well. Thanks for staying the course! In addition to our small staff, our organization has been buoyed by a host of volunteer Society members, board members, and history enthusiasts – whose efforts have managed to continue moving the organization forward. Many of you are here this evening, and I just want to express my sincerest gratitude.
At this juncture, I am happy to report that the Society, after a period of five years, is now stable enough to seek out a qualified Executive Director. I am proud to report that the Board has authorized a search committee, which is currently evaluating the qualifications of interested applicants from across the country. The response has been strong, and we are closing in on finding that missing piece to a very complex operational puzzle. The chair of that search committee will say a few words shortly.
To that end, and as we prepare for the return of a potential new Executive Director, it is critical that our governance and policies are up to date as thoroughly as they can be. Our previous By-Laws did not effectively specify whether the Board or the Executive Director had the authority to hire, discipline or remove staff. That critical question has now been answered thanks to a revision of our By-Laws. The Board also incorporated a series of changes to the By-Laws. Just to clarify, the voting rights of the membership are still exactly the same as they were. Any member in good standing has always been able to cast a vote at Annual Meeting of membership, provided there is a quorum. That has not changed. Once again, changes to the By-Laws in this year revolved around the nomination process… Previously, the Nominating Committee would offer a slate of candidates that was not eligible to be approved by the Board… Those slates of candidates would simply be forwarded for election at the Annual Dinner of Membership without the governing body of the organization having any authority to approve or deny those nominees.
The By-Laws now require that all potential board nominations be forwarded to the Nominating Committee prior to the regularly scheduled March Board of Directors meeting so that the Board can evaluate and approve the slate of candidates for election. This will also ensure for future Annual Dinners that nominees can be mailed out with the Annual Dinner notices to members, which are required to go out 21 (twenty-one) days in advance of the Annual Dinner. This way, all members will have full transparency relative to the candidates they will be voting for, as well the assurance that the Board approved the slate via a majority vote – a requirement which was NOT part of past By-Law versions. Members of the Society still vote “yea” or “nay” on those nominees just like they always have. Even though the Board must now approve a slate of nominations prior to that meeting, any member can make suggestions to that committee at any time, and suggestions for good nominees are always welcomed. In fact, I am confident that there will be an application that all interested nominees will have to complete for future elections.
For the record, our By-laws were amended in 2010, as well as a few years prior to that… In those cases, the newly adopted By-Laws were not shared with members. All members in attendance here have copies of the By-Laws, and all members will receive a copy in the mail for their records. Incidentally, whatever document was leaked one of local newspapers – it was not the final amended version of the By-Laws as you see them this evening. As a matter of sound practice, By-Laws should be reviewed periodically.
To anyone who has the foolishness to say “membership in the Luzerne County Historical Society means nothing,” the following are examples that suggest otherwise. First, the chassis of our new, robust website is complete. The Education Committee led by Clark Switzer and Jon Pollard have been working towards overseeing the development of a website that will have a specialized members’ section that will be filled with much more expanded content of pictures and multimedia, including a dynamic blog where topics of local history can be offered for discussion.
Additionally, educators will be able to choose from a variety of local history lesson plan templates and use them to infuse local history into their respective classrooms. Finally, all of our local historical societies will be able to place their links and logos on our website, as well put their scheduled events on our virtual calendar. The LCHS virtual calendar will be the hub of history-related activity in the County – giving our members and prospective members the means to select those events they want to attend. Basically, the house is built, though it is now up to us to put the furniture in it… Let’s get this done!
I will also reference our 6th Annual Stars of the Valley, which will profile one of NASCAR’s most colorful figures, Jimmy Spencer. Jimmy will be on hand to give a rather exciting talk and will be fielding questions, as well. That will undoubtedly be a good one. On May 1st, we will be having our 6th Annual Car Show, which has been a tremendous success. Look for our 143rd re-enactors to be visible at Swetland throughout the summer, which I believe includes a reenactment on June 16th and 17th, as well as a “Confederate Weekend” June 22nd through June 24th. Additionally, we are currently looking at the possibility of trying to coordinate complementary summer hours between the Swetland, Denison and the Forty-Fort Meeting House. Of course, Steve Killian’s Battle of Wyoming walking tours will be slated for some time in July, as well as the opening of the Giant’s Despair Exhibit in August. In October, we will see the Denison Advocates host their Annual Fall Festival, Bill Lewis’ famous Downtown Wilkes-Barre Ghost Walks (you had better make reservations now), and possibly a fall event at Swetland. Of course, we close out the calendar year with our Holiday events at Swetland and Denison in the same weekend.
Membership lets you do all the research you want our Bishop Memorial Library with the help of a professional archivist, and if you missed Bill Lewis’ re-launch of his Titanic book, you can pick a copy, as well as a number of books he authored. Members can also tour our Museum, which by the way, will have a newly dedicated Mine exhibit in the basement, which we will unveil for Mining Week in 2017. Mining history enthusiasts should really love this new exhibit. Finally, members and their guests will soon be treated to a great program on the Knox Mine Disaster by two respected authorities. Thanks for your time, and thank you for supporting LCHS.
Carl B. Rosencrance
LCHS Board President