More than three decades ago, Wally Broege, who hails from upstate New York and studied marine science in college, never imagined himself heading the Suffolk County Historical Society. Or any historical society, for that matter.
But in the mid-1970s he took a part-time job with the Riverhead-based organization and in 1979 applied to be its first full-time director. The historical society, established in 1886, had previously been run by a volunteer board of directors.
Mr. Broege was selected for the job.
“I can’t say in high school an interest in history was instilled in me,” he said. “But my interest in Suffolk County history grew as I worked here.”
Now, more than 30 years later, Mr. Broege will be stepping down from his post as the society’s first director at the end of July.
In that time he has put together more than 30 annual budgets, helped develop hundreds of exhibits and overseen the construction of a climate-controlled area built for archives inside the West Main Street building, now added to the National Register of Historic Places.
Of his favorite exhibits are “Barren and Waste Land: Long Islanders and the Pine Barrens” and “Patriots Come Forward: Suffolk County’s Role in the Civil War” (2009) featuring cannonballs, rifles with deadly bayonets still attached to their barrels and pistols of all sizes that were used by Long Islanders serving in the union army among other artifacts. Some of the more complex exhibits take about three years from conception to implementation, Mr. Broege said
The most enjoyable aspect of the job for him has been working with a dedicated staff and creating exhibitions.
“The best memories I am going to have are the people,” he said. “I’ve worked with people that took pride in their work.”
He will be succeeded by Kathryn Curran, the historical society’s former part-time public programs director.
“She makes exhibitions look easy,” Mr. Broege said as Ms. Curran worked in a gallery cluttered with supplies just three days before the opening of the museum’s latest exhibit, “Private Place, Public Space.”
“How many times can we bother you in a month,” Ms. Curran said, promising to seek Mr. Broege’s advice frequently.
Ms. Curran said she would like to see school groups visit the museum again, something that stopped in 2007 when the organization eliminated its education coordinator position. Ms. Curran said she’d like to bring back the position on a volunteer basis.
“I’d love to mine the resources of retired teachers,” she said.
For Mr. Broege, one of the hardest part of retirement will be no longer having a hand in the many exhibits that commemorate Suffolk County’s rich history.
“I’m going to leave some of the projects undone,” he said. “It’s a little bit difficult to let go of things.”