The Harbor History Museum is saying goodbye to another executive director following the resignation announcement from current director Katharine Hensler.
The resignation follows notice of a duty reassignment received by Hensler and her husband, Craig Neill, an Army sergeant stationed at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, in December. Neill is being reassigned to Fort Riley in Kansas.
“It’s been an unfortunately short tenure,” Hensler, 36, said. “I feel a bit of guilt in all this because when I was hired we were under the impression that I’d be here three to five years. They really did take a risk hiring me and I’m grateful for that.”
Hensler was hired as executive director in October 2015, following interim director John Ross. Her last day at the museum is March 24.
Stepping into the role, Hensler identified her priorities in gaining trust from the Gig Harbor community for the museum and gaining more consistent program funding.
Another goal was to provide museum members with programming and membership benefits that made those members feel valued, as well as stabilizing membership numbers. Previously, museum membership numbers could fluctuate up to 40 members a month, but saw a stabilization under Hensler’s leadership. Overall museum membership saw a six-percent rise since Hensler took over as director.
It’s been an unfortunately short tenure. I feel a bit of guilt in all this because when I was hired we were under the impression that I’d be here three to five years. They really did take a risk hiring me and I’m grateful for that.
Katharine Hensler, executive director of the Harbor History Museum
“Last year we overworked ourselves. We overdid what we needed to do,” Hensler said of the museum’s 2016 programming. “I feel last year was a turning point. I feel we had to do that to engage the community.”
Hensler’s focus this year was to focus on development by adding new fundraising sources and engaging donors with the museum.
“I think it’s really important that the community realize we don’t receive any operational funding from federal, state or city funds,” she said. “For keeping the doors open, we’re pretty much on our own.”
Stabilizing the museum, including staff and volunteers, is one of the first things that comes to mind for Dennis Carter, president of the museum’s board of directors, when talking about Hensler.
“I think what Katharine and all of us really try to do is bring some stability to a museum that has had its ups and downs in hiring a long-term executive director,” Carter said. “She set about making sure that everything was inventories and properly cataloged and very well secured ... dealing with these things that most people would recognize as the number one mission.”
The hiring process for a new executive director has begun and interviews are underway, with the hope for a transitional period with Hensler still in town to help provide some guidance and insight.
I think what Katharine, and all of us really try to do, is bring some stability to a museum that has had its ups and downs in hiring a long term executive director. She set about making sure that everything was inventories and properly cataloged and very well secured.
Dennis Carter, president of the museum’s board of directors
“It really takes a good six months to acclimate yourself,” Hensler said. “But I think the new person is coming in on a more stable foundation.”
An ideal candidate for the position would have staff management experience, along with a development and fundraising background. Ties to the Gig Harbor and local communities are also bonus points in the search.
“I think somebody with local ties to the community and the heritage here will run this much more personally,” Hensler said.
Carter agreed that candidates with local experience are rating higher in the interview process.
It’s going to be hard to leave this place. I’ve worked for museum’s in small communities before and it really takes awhile to find your place...I was expecting that when I came here. I was expecting a cool welcome and I got one of the warmest welcomes I’ve ever gotten. I’ve never felt as welcome in any of my jobs as I have here.
“The local people do get a few extra points,” he said. “We’re looking for someone with not-for-profit experience. The home run, if you will, is that rare person who possesses a managerial background and a museum background … (along with) philanthropic experience.”
Hensler holds an undergraduate degree in History and a graduate degree in Historical Preservation, with a background in museum management. After her move to Kansas, she plans to continue working in a nonprofit setting.
“We are not going to leave the museum in the lurch, and we are not going to hire just to have a body here,” she said.
With Hensler’s strong leadership and direction, Carter said that the benchmark for the next director is set for the board.
“The museum has experienced this very good period of stability over the past couple of years. We know what that’s like now,” he said.
We hate that she’s leaving, we knew it was a risk when we hired her, with her husband in the military. But it was a risk we were willing to take. I think that we’re just grateful for the time that we got with her.
Even in such a short amount of time, Hensler feels connected to the Gig Harbor community and welcomed in a way that she has not experienced in other cities.
“It’s going to be hard to leave this place,” she said. “I’ve worked for museums in small communities before and it really takes awhile to find your place ... I was expecting that when I came here. I was expecting a cool welcome and I got one of the warmest welcomes I’ve ever gotten. I’ve never felt as welcome in any of my jobs as I have here.”
Carter and the museum’s board of director’s are also sorry to lose Hensler.
“We hate that she’s leaving — we knew it was a risk when we hired her, with her husband in the military. But it was a risk we were willing to take. I think that we’re just grateful for the time that we got with her,” he said. “I think that what she did is come in and show us that this museum can be everything that we hoped it could be, given the right amount of time and some good leadership. And I think we’re all very keenly aware now that our next hire is now going to be coming in to an operation where we’re more experience in how to operate in a certain way.”