Good Life

7 questions with Bob Cameron | Director of Columbus Chapel and Boal Mansion Museum hits ground running

Bob Cameron, the new museum director at the Boal Mansion, shares stories behind the artifacts in the building on Saturday, May 16, 2015.
Bob Cameron, the new museum director at the Boal Mansion, shares stories behind the artifacts in the building on Saturday, May 16, 2015. CDT photo

Half a decade may not be as long as it sounds.

When Bob Cameron took over as the new director of the Columbus Chapel and Boal Mansion Museum in March, he outlined an ambitious five-year plan that included developing a membership program, installing a new metal roof and the construction of nine gardens carrying everything from butterflies to fruit.

And then there’s the day-to-day stuff.

The museum reopened for the season May 1 with the help of about 100 community volunteers, and Cameron is eager to get people back walking the halls of history in Boalsburg.

Cameron recently spoke more about what he hopes to accomplish as museum director and the ever-developing role of the Boal Mansion Museum.

Q: What appealed to you about the opportunity to become the museum’s new director?

A: As a Boalsburg resident I was very familiar with the extensive historic collections at the museum with items from the previous six centuries. From Medieval art and weapons to a replica of the Santa Maria at 1/12 scale. … There are even items from the Valley of the Kings, the excavation of which was funded by a relative of the Boals. The diverse collections combined with impressive historic buildings and a more than 40-acre estate offers so many possibilities to create a focal point for history appreciation, the arts, music, horticulture and education.

Q: What were some of the challenges that you were anticipating upon accepting the position? Was there anything that surprised you?

A: I have spent my life working around the world in industry and most recently academia. My nature is to obtain as much information as possible before embarking on an endeavor. As a nonprofit, the museum must make information including financials available to the public. Also I had been on local boards, like the Boalsburg Village Conservancy for many years. So I had a very good understanding of the many challenges and really no major surprises.

I knew that as a 501 c(3) nonprofit there would be financial challenges since there is no federal or state assistance. Also there is a dire need for maintenance to the buildings as well as the historical treasures. In some respects, this is a benefit since in many ways it’s like working with a blank canvas.

Q: What are you looking to accomplish with the museum this year? Do you have any long-term or short-term goals?

A: My first week on the job, I proposed a five-year strategy to the board that was immediately approved.

I have met with numerous local civic groups to obtain their input. Many of these initiatives are already underway. Four of the gardens have been designed and are under construction. Many people have stepped forward to volunteer or have donated plants for the gardens. The membership program is complete and we are signing up new members. Bids are coming in for the new metal roof. It’s an aggressive five-year strategy, but in less than two months we are already well underway.

Q: Ideally, what do you think the museum’s place in the community should be and how are you working to maintain or achieve that?

A: A destination where visitors can stroll around the estate’s gardens, learn the unique history of the site and enjoy the arts and music, special events and educational programs throughout the year. Just as volunteers give their time and skills to making the museum a better place, so too the museum needs to give back to the community by assisting other community groups in their endeavors.

Q: Why do you think it’s important to preserve places like Columbus Chapel and Boal Mansion? Why are they still relevant today?

A: Such unique sites can contribute to the quality of living in an area and make it a desirable place for families to locate. In addition, these sites augment classroom learning for young and old alike.

The Boal Estate also provides a unique and beautiful venue for the arts, music and special events. And, of course, the old saying by Santayana is applicable: “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

Q: Do you have a favorite exhibit or room at the museum? Why?

A: Rather than a specific item or room, I enjoy the diversity of the collections and how the Boal family’s history takes us from the frontier days of Boalsburg to the world stage, amassing fortunes and losing them. It’s incredible that here in Boalsburg we have one of the most extensive Columbus collections in North America, weapons from the Middle Ages through World War I, artifacts from the Valley of the Kings and Renaissance artworks.

Q: How can people get involved with Boal Mansion?

A: We are in the process of updating our website so people can become members and sign up for the various committees. Of course, they are welcome to stop by the museum and I can personally describe the many volunteer opportunities available.