Monroe museum director on task

Voters saved facility from closing doors

1/21/2013
BY CARL RYAN
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Andy Clark, new director of the Monroe County Historical Museum, in the map section, said he made it a point to start his position before the bicentennial celebrations of the Battles of the River Raisin.
Andy Clark, new director of the Monroe County Historical Museum, in the map section, said he made it a point to start his position before the bicentennial celebrations of the Battles of the River Raisin.

MONROE — Officials have kept their pledge to hire a full-time director for the Monroe County Historical Museum if voters approved a levy request that was on the ballot in August.

Andy Clark has been on the job for a week. He was brought in from Flint, Mich., where he was director of the Whaley Historic House Museum, a Victorian manse that once was the home of Robert Whaley, a banker whose $2,000 loan was used to launch a company that led to the creation of General Motors Co.

“It was a wagon company started by William Durant nearly 30 years before General Motors was a company,” Mr. Clark said of the legendary GM co-founder and his humble start as an industrialist.

Mr. Whaley’s neighbors, Mr. Clark said, included automobile-industry pioneers such as Walter Chrysler and David Dunbar Buick.

While Mr. Clark, 35, is well versed in the history of the car industry, he is quick to reject any suggestion that he is an automotive historian. His professional grounding — and intellectual focus — is Michigan history, of which cars play a huge part. But the Great Lakes State has a lot more in its past, which helps explain his delight in landing in his $48,000-a-year position in Monroe.

“I’ve always been interested in Michigan history. Monroe offers so many narrative points, and we have such a really rich history,” he said, mentioning Gen. George Armstrong Custer and the Battles of the River Raisin. “There are stories for every community in Michigan.”

The museum is said to have the single largest collection of Custer artifacts, and the bicentennial of the River Raisin battles was observed over the weekend. Monroe is considered General Custer’s hometown even though he was born in New Rumley, Ohio.

A diorama of of the Battle of Gettysburg is featured at the Monroe museum, which is said to have the single largest collection of artifacts pertaining to Gen. George Armstrong Custer.
A diorama of of the Battle of Gettysburg is featured at the Monroe museum, which is said to have the single largest collection of artifacts pertaining to Gen. George Armstrong Custer.

Mr. Clark’s new job puts him at the helm of a museum that was in real danger of being closed as recently as last summer.

The previous director lost his position to cuts in 2011. Monroe County has been hit hard in recent years by declining revenue and reductions in state funding. The county’s board of commissioners focused its dwindling resources on public services and reduced funding for the museum.

What saved the museum was the approval in August of a dedicated 0.1-mill, 10-year levy that is projected to generate $569,000 annually. The cost to a homeowner with a $50,000 valuation is about $5 per year.

If the request had been rejected, officials planned to close the museum Aug. 15 and mothball its extensive collection of artifacts. With the millage in place, however, the museum has a new lease on life.

Michael Bosanac, the Monroe County administrator, said he met with Mr. Clark on Jan. 14, the new museum director’s first day on the job.

“We are excited to have Andy on board to leverage the historical assets of the community and to work collaboratively with other organizations promoting our communities’ rich history,” he said in an email. “After meeting with Andy, I expect an openness to ideas, programs, and services to meet the needs of museums countywide.”

Mr. Clark has a bachelor’s degree in history and a master’s degree in American culture, both from the University of Michigan-Flint. His wife, Karen, will move to Monroe to join him shortly.

He said his goal was to start his job before the weekend’s bicentennial commemoration at the River Raisin National Battlefield Park and elsewhere. “I wanted to make a personal point of being here for it.”

Mr. Clark said it would be premature of him to discuss new programs or exhibits, but “I think people will be very happy about where we start taking the museum this year. It’s a great county asset.”