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Published: Monday, 7/21/2003

Hayes Center chief declared a `winner'

BY MICHAEL LOPRESTI
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Dr. Roger Bridges has served as the executive director of the Hayes Presidential Center in Fremont for 15 years. Dr. Roger Bridges has served as the executive director of the Hayes Presidential Center in Fremont for 15 years.
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Though Rutherford B. Hayes' election to the presidency in 1876 was one of the most controversial in U.S. history, the selection of Dr. Murney Gerlach as the new executive director of the Hayes Presidential Center in Fremont was made without even the suggestion of a recount.

Dr. Gerlach will replace longtime executive director Roger Bridges when Dr. Bridges retires at the end of this month.

Dr. Gerlach comes to the center with expertise in history as well as extensive experience managing historical organizations.

For 20 years, he has divided his time between teaching history at the university level and working as a consultant for museums and historical societies across the country, including a two-year stint as director of the Rhode Island Historical Society.

He is currently a resident of Bristol, R.I., and holds teaching positions at the University of Rhode Island, Rhode Island College, and Bryant College.

“I enjoy being in class, connecting students with history and American civilization,” Dr. Gerlach said.

However, the professor is ready to put his teaching career on hold for a while to devote himself to the management of the nation's first presidential library.

“I look forward to getting to know the center and its priorities,” he said. “I want to get out and be a good ambassador for the Hayes Center.”

While Dr. Gerlach never has devoted his studies so exclusively to one historical figure, he's well-versed in the history of the latter half of the 19th century in the United States - the so-called “Gilded Age” with which Hayes is associated. Naturally, his appointment has inspired him to delve more deeply into the 19th President's life.

“I have been reading extensively on Hayes, and I am fascinated by his reforms of the civil services and his promotion of civil rights,” Dr. Gerlach said.

Dr. Bridges leaves the facility after 15 years in the position.

During his tenure, Dr. Bridges promoted and expanded the center's extensive electronic genealogy database and experienced a heightened interest in the center during the 2000 presidential election, which was widely compared to the election of President Hayes. Just as in the Gore-Bush race, the 1876 presidential election hinged on Florida as one of three key states, and President Hayes lost the popular vote but won the Electoral College vote, defeating Samuel Tilden.

Dr. Bridges, 66, plans to move to Illinois, where he will teach, travel, and write.

The search for Dr. Bridges' replacement yielded more than 200 applicants.

The qualities that made Dr. Gerlach stand out from the scores of other applicants were his extensive background in history and his experience with fund-raising, said Tom Hoffert, a member of the presidential center's board of directors.

Dr. Gerlach's duties as executive director will include managing the facility's staff from grounds crew to archivists, and raising funds for needed improvements to the facility.

“The foundation is solid, but I want to take the Hayes Center another step forward,” Dr. Gerlach said.

“It takes a variety of skills to run the center,” Mr. Hoffert said. “We're very happy with him, and we know we've made the right choice.”


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