Oldham County Historical Society

Theiss takes over
as History Center director

By Ruth Wright
Staff Writer

LA GRANGE, Ky.(March 2004) – A new face now greets visitors to the Oldham County History Center. Nancy Stearns Theiss has replaced Anita Fritz as executive director.
“The History Center is ideal for me,” said Theiss, 51. “I know the county well.”
Theiss, a native of Oldham County, learned of the vacant position from Fritz’s husband, Dennis. Theiss’s decision to apply for the job was based in part on past experience as director of several educational, non-profit centers in the state.

Nancy Theiss

Stearns Theiss

She has traveled most of the state in her past position as director for an environmental program for the state. She said it was “good to be here and work on a local project.” The location puts Theiss closer to home and husband, Jim, who is an attorney in La Grange. The couple has two children, Jimmy Dan and Jessie.
Theiss has been a director for the Louisville Nature Center and is currently on the faculty at the University of Louisville, where she is completing her doctorate degree. Theiss has also taught in the Jefferson County school system.
A search committee narrowed down the applicants to three candidates, said Historical Society Vice President Duane Murner. Theiss was ultimately chosen because she is familiar with the county, has a good relationship with the people of Oldham County, and has a heightened sense of what it takes to initiate programs and carry them out, said Murner.
One of Theiss’s goals for the History Center is for it to become “more user friendly for families and children,” she said. One way she has put this plan into action is by establishing a series of children’s workshops on Saturday mornings called “Finding My Sense of Place.” Geared toward children ages 5-12, these workshops feature activities that help children identify the special cultural and natural history features of the region.
Theiss seeks to educate students and teachers by implementing programs structured around the unique collection of a variety of artifacts housed at the Center. By viewing these artifacts, children gain a sense that the history the objects depict is real. Theiss said that often we are so focused on the present and future that we often overlook the past and the lessons it teaches us.
She has launched a new summer series of exhibits titled, “Our Cultural Diversity Exhibits.” These displays point out the “cultures that are unique to the county,” said Theiss.
The 2004 exhibit theme revolves around Oldham County’s African American Heritage, and many local citizens have already contributed to this exhibit. The result of a recently completed volunteer project is a survey of the African American Cemeteries in Oldham County. Many cemeteries are listed in this book that sells for $17.50 at the History Center or Karen’s Book Barn.
“Oldham County is changing so rapidly that we want people moving into the county to be aware of our resources and opportunities to observe and educate themselves,” Theiss said. She wants to show newcomers that they, too, can be involved in the community in a historical perspective, while the county still retains its unique heritage.
Theiss plans to use as many resources in the county as possible to bring about a better understanding of history. A lecture series has been conceived, built around the soon-to-open Irish Rover Too restaurant on Main Street in La Grange. Three dates and speakers have been set for May 12, July 14 and Nov. 10.
She is also concentrating her efforts on a spring membership drive for the Center. From 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. on April 2 at the John W. Black Community Center, Dr. James Claypool will be the featured speaker at a fund raising dinner. Tickets can be purchased for $12.
Theiss described her position as executive director of the History Center as “fun. The wonderful thing about this job is that it is very creative.”
Her skills are not limited to the resources within the center. Plans are in the works to extend the gardens behind the center and open the root cellar in an effort to concentrate on conservation education. The 1880 Presbyterian Church owned by the History Center, will be restored and used as classroom space to encourage people to visit the center and provide an on-site lecture facility.
Murner said Theiss brought additional advantages to the table through her deep involvement in the area of botany. “She has been a very significant help to us in drafting conservation grants,” he said.
Patricia Michael helped start the History Center, Anita Fritz pulled it together and established an ongoing enterprise, and Theiss will carry out the next stage of its development, Murner said. He believes she will present programs in an aggressive way to the community, while promoting an outside interest in Oldham County. Fritz will continue to volunteer, serve on the 2004 Gala Committee and continue her work on the Veteran’s History Project.
Theiss plans to implement county tours for visitors and residents alike of Oldham County. She would also like to see a “celebration of different communities” in the future.
A current exhibit titled “Helping in Times of Need: Oldham County’s Red Cross,” will run until April 15. Several children’s workshops have been planned to coincide with the exhibit, in which children learn to make an emergency kit, care packages and friendship boxes.
Murner said Theiss will “continue and expand on our presence as a significant force in the county.”

• Hours for the Oldham County History Center are 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday. For more information call Theiss at (502) 222-0826.

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