2018-09-13 / News

New director is all-aboard at museum

By Duke Harrington
Staff Writer

Katie Orlando is the second executive director of the Seashore Trolley Museum in Kennebunkport, having taken the reins of the 79-year-old institution on Sept. 4. (Duke Harrington photo) Katie Orlando is the second executive director of the Seashore Trolley Museum in Kennebunkport, having taken the reins of the 79-year-old institution on Sept. 4. (Duke Harrington photo) KENNEBUNKPORT — Katie Orlando knows expectations are high as she takes the reins as the second-ever executive director at the Seashore Trolley Museum in Kennebunkport.

After all, there are some volunteers at the 79-year-old institution who have been busy about its mission for longer than she’s been alive. But the 36-year-old is no rookie at running nonprofits, having spent nearly a decade working for Big Brothers/ Big Sisters.

A New Hampshire native, Orlando began her career at the University of Maine-Farmington where she worked in the residents’ life department. She then moved to Big Brothers/Big Sisters of Mid-Maine, spending nearly three years there before moving on to agency chapters in New Hampshire and, for the past three years, in Iowa.

Katie Orlando, new executive director of the Seashore Trolley Museum in Kennebunkport, is flanked by volunteer conductors Herb Pence, left, and John Middleton, at the main stop of the 1.5-mile private demonstration line, on just her fourth day on the job, Sept. 7. (Duke Harrington photo) Katie Orlando, new executive director of the Seashore Trolley Museum in Kennebunkport, is flanked by volunteer conductors Herb Pence, left, and John Middleton, at the main stop of the 1.5-mile private demonstration line, on just her fourth day on the job, Sept. 7. (Duke Harrington photo) Now returned to Maine, she has lived in Old Orchard Beach less than two weeks, having taken over at the trolley museum Sept. 4.

Her predecessor, Sally Bates, was at the helm for nearly seven years, and is credited with helping the museum turn a corner as its first full-time professional leader.

“Having an executive director made a sea change in this place. It really made a big difference. So, I am optimistic about our new one,” said conductor John Middleton, a 40- year volunteer at the museum.

But the line to choosing Bates’ successor was not easy. A new executive director was named late April, but then backed-out Aug. 1, one month short of his scheduled start date, saying he’d just become the principal caregiver for his aging parents and would have to decline.

“We started the search over because about eight months had passed since the first one and it was likely most prior candidates’ situations would have changed, and that more, potentially stronger candidates, could have emerged, which turned out to be true,” said museum President and CEO James Schantz, via email on Monday.

According to Schantz, about 10 candidates applied for the museum’s top job during the recruitment drive. Four visited the 330-acre campus for interviews.

“Katie Orlando emerged as the top candidate because of her extensive nonprofit management career, her dynamism and sense of excitement and strong results as a fundraiser,” Schantz said. “We’re excited to have Katie in her position. She is ideally placed to carry on the tremendous progress Sally Bates made in improving the museum’s links to the community, building programs and special events that interest and serve the community and improving and expanding storage facilities for our priceless collections.”

On Friday, Sept. 7, just four days into her tenure, Orlando took time out from learning the ropes to sit down with the Post and introduce herself to the community.

Q: What interested you in the trolley museum position?

A: My degree is in history and political science, but I’ve never actually been able to use it. I’ve always been in jobs where I’ve just used my life experience, working with college students and young adults, and youth facing adversity. So, I was really looking to get back to the field I am most passionate about, which is history and historic preservation. Plus, I’ve always been a rail fan, and I was looking to relocate back to New England. So, I thought this would be a good position for me.

Q: What particular strengths do you bring to the job?

A: Well, this museum was transformed so much by its first executive director, Sally Bates. She did a great job with marketing and being more public friendly, getting some grants and starting events like what we do for Christmas Prelude. I hope to take her legacy and what she’s done and continue to grow it. But I think the board was comfortable with me because of my background in fund development and marketing.

In my last position with Big Brothers/Big Sisters, I increased their agency revenue and program capacity – in the amount of youth they could serve each year – by 245 percent, in what was really such a short window of time [three years]. So, I think the board was feeling pretty confident I’d be able to settle in here.

Also, I am fairly young and have a lot of energy, which is something else I think the board was looking for. It’s just a matter of making sure I take a step back and be really respectful of everyone’s past and history with this museum, and that I don’t come in and change things just for the sake of change. I want to be really intentional and mindful of how I move forward as a leader.

Q: How would you describe your leadership style?

A: I like to do a lot of things at once. I am assertive, but also very collaborative. I think I got to where I am at professionally because I could work with other people. I’m very excited about the people our museum has. The spirit of this place and the fact so many people are so passionate about it, I love that. That’s what fuels me as a leader. I’m glad that I’m surrounded by people who really care.

Q: Granted you’ve only been on the job a few days, but what do you see as the museum’s greatest needs?

A: We could really benefit from some work on our rails. We’re doing some work on our trolley barns, but we could really use more storage. If you look around, you can see that in the ‘60s and ‘70s we received a lot of cars that have been sitting out in the elements since then. So, it would be nice to be able to house and display them properly. We’d also like to find some funds to make the trolleys more handicap accessible. There’s just so many projects. So, grant-writing is definitely a strength that is needed.

I will also be looking to build partnerships with the community, businesses and schools, and creating collaborations with other nonprofits. But my biggest priority is making sure this museum is able to live on for another 80 years.

Q: How hard will it be to build those relationships in the community, when you are so new to the area yourself?

A: Well, I’ve been to and lived in Maine before, and I’m not from that far away, so I do have a basic understanding of the culture. But I really have never had that hard of a time building relationships when I move someplace new. I get involved right away. I usually find some service organization to get involved in, or join some commission for the town that I am living or working in. I volunteer for other nonprofits, too. So, just getting engaged, plugging myself in, and hitting the ground running, I think will suit me well in this position. I’m not afraid to reach out to meet new people. I think all of that will help me succeed in this role.

Q: Do you have any big plans for next year?

A: Well, I am looking forward to collaborating with all of the members and volunteers of the museum. I think one thing I would like to do, just because of my background, is to implement some more family-friendly events. I hope there will be support for that.

I know we do a lot with local schools, we do things like story time and magic shows, but maybe we can do something more impactful, like internships, to show kids they have opportunities that that people in this community care about them.

Also, I know we do a day for veterans. So, maybe we could be more welcoming to more members of the community, doing a day for teachers, or first responders. I’d like to try to engage the public even more than we’ve been doing, to make sure people know we exist and that this is regarded as one of the treasures of Kennebunkport.

But also, grant writing, grant writing, grant writing. I have big dreams. I hope to raise even more money so we can continue to do projects and take care of the cars and track and resources we have here, and maybe even add to the line. But of course, before we can think about growing, we need to make sure what we have now is in a really good place.

Q: What do you view as your biggest potential challenge?

A: We have a lot of projects going on in our restoration shop, but we’re having a hard time finding the skilled labor to keep up with all of the projects. For example, there is the Narcissus, which Teddy Roosevelt famously rode, and a lot of people and a few generous donors would like to have it on the track and running by Maine’s bicentennial in 2020. The only barrier we have right now is that we don’t have the staff to work on it. Getting that skilled labor is a priority that I think will get bumped up higher and higher on my list.

And of course, we don’t have that much in the way of professional staff. We are so supported by volunteers, many of whom have been here longer than I’ve been alive. So, making sure that is a sustainable model, that we have the infrastructure to keep on keeping on, and that all the knowledge our long-time volunteers have is not lost or ever goes away, is, I think, really important.

Q: Do you have any personal history with trolley cars?

A: Well, I thought I did. (laughs) But when I came for my interview I was told that maybe isn’t the best history to share. When I was a child we used to come up to York every summer and ride the trolleys, and I just loved the trolleys. I shared that story in my interview and the board said that those are fake trolleys. These are the real ones. (laughs). But I do love trolleys. When I’ve gone on trips to San Francisco and New Orleans I could not get off the trolleys and street cars. There’s just something about them that draws me to them.

Q: Do you have a favorite trolley car yet?

A: (laughs) Well, it’s like children, I don’t think I’m allowed to say which is my favorite. But I do really like the double-decker cars.

Q: What has your first week been like?

A: This first week at the museum has been great, with volunteers taking me around, showing me their favorite cars, and telling me the history of each one. The stories and legacies are phenomenal. A lot of people have a lot of heart and soul in this place. There’s so much history here. I’m just unraveling it slowly.

Staff Writer Duke Harrington can be reached at news@kennebunkpost.com.

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