Historical group fires director | AspenTimes.com

Historical group fires director

Brent Gardner-Smith
Aspen Times Staff Writer

Grace Gary, the executive director of HeritageAspen, was let go last week by the organization’s board of trustees.

Previously known as the Aspen Historical Society, HeritageAspen has now been through two executive directors since longtime director Jody McCabe stepped down from the position in October 1998.

The society manages historical sites in and around Aspen, including the Holden-Marolt Mining and Ranching Museum, the ghost towns at Ashcroft and Independence, and the Wheeler-Stallard House Museum. It also maintains a historical archive, presents lectures and organizes historical walking tours of Aspen’s West End.

Gary was hired in the spring of 2001 at a salary of $80,000 plus an in-town affordable housing situation.

An architectural historian, Gary had previously worked at Longue Vue House and Gardens, an 8-acre historical estate in New Orleans. She also had experience with the Williamsburg Tourism Leadership Center, Preservation Pennsylvania and the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

She was chosen for the Aspen position after an extensive national search and filled the position held briefly by Sam Shogren, who was hired after McCabe left.

Gary was highly regarded for her presentation skills but did not impress the HeritageAspen board of trustees on other fronts.

“The board of trustees elected to terminate the employment of Grace Gary, and I don’t think it is necessary to go into all the standpoints,” said Ron Silensky, board president. “Basically it was a matter of not a good fit in many of the areas that an executive director needs to perform. While she had some outstanding strengths, primarily in presentations and speechmaking, she was unable to perform what was necessary in the other facets of her duties.”

Gary, when reached to discuss the matter, declined to comment.

On Aug. 5, HeritageAspen honored Aspen Times columnist Mary Eshbaugh Hayes with its first Living Landmark Award. The fund-raising party in Hayes’ honor was a sell-out and deemed to be a success but apparently wasn’t enough to make the board happy with Gary.

“We liked her very much as a person and respected her,” said Silensky. “It just ended up to be a non-fit when all was said and done.”

The board has chosen Liz Atkins to be the interim executive director.

Atkins has lived in Aspen since 1987 and recently left a position at Wells Fargo bank, where she specialized in construction lending. She was contacted about the open position by a HeritageAspen board member, she said.

Atkins has served on a number of local nonprofit boards, including the Aspen Country Day School board. And while she does not have experience working with organizations focusing on history, she said she has always been interested in Aspen history.

“I have a very deep appreciation for history and where we live in Aspen,” Atkins said. “It’s a passion for me.”

And she hopes she will be with the organization in the future.

“I think we are both in a period of evaluation but I would love to see it work into something permanent,” Atkins said.

But at this point, Silensky said Atkins is considered to be in an interim position.

“What Liz is doing is helping us get reorganized,” he said. “The inner workings need to be upgraded significantly.”

And, he said, the next director will be a local. “There is a lot of talent here, and we feel we will hire within the community.”

[Brent Gardner-Smith’s e-mail address is bgs@aspentimes.com]

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