Gateway: News

New museum director wants to bring stability to position

Katharine Hensler, a native of Williamsport, Pennsylvania was recently named executive director of the Harbor History Museum.
Katharine Hensler, a native of Williamsport, Pennsylvania was recently named executive director of the Harbor History Museum. Staff photographer

Katharine Hensler started as last week as executive director at the Harbor History Museum, taking the helm after a few years of instability in the role.

Hensler is the third director in the last three years. Since the building on Harborview Drive opened, there have been four executive directors.

John Ross sat at the helm, but only on an interim basis, all of last year while Ted Smith directed the museum from 2013 to 2014. Preceding Smith, Sue Loiland directed the museum from 2011 to 2013, and Jennifer Kilmer, now director of the Washington State History Museum, held the role for almost eight years, from 2003 to 2011.

Hensler, 35, who has a background in small museum management, is aware of the recent history, but she’s committed to staying on and strengthening the museum. She’s ready to take on the challenge of reaching out and making connections that may be missing in the community.

She also plans on keeping things stable and not rewriting the script.

“My goal is not to come in and make whirlwind changes,” Hensler said. “I’ve seen how much this museum has to offer compared to other small museums.”

For example, she thinks the on-site volunteer restoration of the Shenandoah fishing vessel is a great asset for the museum.

Before accepting the position at the Harbor History Museum, Hensler was working in the health care field at the Muscular Dystrophy Association in Seattle. Working at a health care nonprofit was rewarding, but Hensler’s heart — and background — was in history.

Hensler has worked in community museums in North Carolina and also helped set up a museum for the Mayo Clinic in Scottsdale, Arizona.

Compared to her other experiences, she feels a draw for the Harbor History Museum is the layout, exhibits and overall experience.

“It’s a little museum vibe with a big museum experience,” she said.

Of course, she said, there’s a financial element to managing the museum. The museum won’t be looking to expensive traveling exhibits, but will continue a precedent set during Ross’ time at the museum; to focus on what the museum already has in its collections and create special exhibits. Hensler also wants to explore more grants to help bring in exhibits.

Born in Williamsport, Pennsylvania, she attended Lockhaven University, earning a bachelor’s degree in history. She later attended Goucher College, in Maryland, for a master’s in historic preservation.

She moved to Tacoma last December with her husband, who is stationed at Joint Base Lewis-McChord. The two have fallen in love with Gig Harbor, thanks to their love of hiking and kayaking.

As she settles in, Hensler said she’s always open to community input and wants to hear ideas from community members.

Karen Miller: 253-358-4155