Jackson County Historical Society is without a director

By Mike Genet mike.genet@examiner.net

The Jackson County Historical Society will be without an executive director, at least for the near future.

Caitlin Eckard, the executive director for more than two years, resigned this month to pursue other opportunities, two board members of the non-profit organization said. With finances taking a hit amid the pandemic, board treasurer Steve Noll said, “We likely won’t have an executive director at least for the short term.”

Noll, who preceded Eckard as executive director before he retired, said the group hopes to keep Savannah Lore, the archives and education manager, who succeeded Eckard in that role, on full-time. Gloria Smith, president of the Historical Society’s board of directors, will take on some of the necessary administrative duties.

The Historical Society also has one part-time employee and pays another individual for cataloging images and negatives from the extensive Wilborn Collection that Noll donated to the Historical Society.

“Everything has (been) complicated this year,” Smith said. “We’re going through some rough times, and we’ve almost shut down our outside activities, but we’re still doing exciting archival work.”

“We’ve had fundraiser after fundraiser canceled, and we’re worrying that we won’t have annual dinner in January. We tried to get the PPP (federal pandemic payroll aid funds) and weren’t able to.”

The Historical Society has some archives in the Truman Historic Courthouse on the Independence Square and owns and runs the 1859 Jail and Marshal’s Home Museum on the Square. Jail tours are one of the Historical Society’s regular income streams, and while it recently reopened for tours by appointment and will host the annual ghost tours this fall, numbers naturally aren’t near the norm.

“We’re all working under some difficult times,” Smith said.

The Historical Society was formed in the late 1950s amid the campaign to save and refurbish the 1859 Jail and Marshal’s Home. Eckard guided a campaign to make repairs to the home portion of the museum. Earlier during the pandemic shutdowns, she and Lore outlined plans to redo some of the exhibit space behind the jail to better show the county’s Black history. 

“She brought us a lot of newer, younger ideas, and I appreciated that,” Smith said. “We historians tend to be stuck in the past, and it’s always nice to have newer, fresher ideas. She brought really good skills, and we wish her the best.”

Smith said the Historical Society plans to soon unveil a website that had already been under contract, which digitizes much of the group’s long-held archives.

“We have a wonderful treasure trove of pictures that need to be out there,” Smith said. “Up until this year, we weren’t far from the old-fashioned ways.”