Orient Historical Society welcomes new executive director

Oysterponds Historical Society aims to preserve, exhibit and interpret Orient and East Marion culture and heritage. Marianne Howard, who has worked in museums across Long Island and New York City, joined the historical society as executive director Jan. 2.

The Bethpage native received a B.A. in anthropology from SUNY/Albany and a master’s in anthropology with a concentration in museum studies from Arizona State University. Ms. Howard has served on the board of directors for local museums and currently lives in Middle Island with her husband, Bill, and her two dogs, Charley and Brownie.

We sat down with Ms. Howard to talk about her past work experience, passion for history and making adjustments to the Orient community. 

Q: Tell me about your role as executive director at the Oysterponds Historical Society. What does this position entail?

A: As the executive director, I’m here to make sure that day-to-day operations are running smoothly, as well as handling the long-range planning, fundraising, special events, and maintaining the historic buildings on the grounds.

Q: What other buildings do you work to maintain?

A. There are seven historic buildings in Orient. We keep open three of them for the summer months, when our main exhibition is open, and hopefully a fourth this summer. Those will officially open Memorial Day weekend and run through the end of September. Another building maintains our archives and artifacts collection, too.

Q: What sparked your interest in history and anthropology?

A: When I was younger, our family vacations were always to historic battlefields and campgrounds. That’s what my parents used to like to take us to do. So I had an interest from a young age. Then I started pre-med at Albany. I was doing really well, but I took an elective, an anthropology class, and I just really loved that and decided to change over. I learned about the museum studies program at Arizona State and it was just a great opportunity for me to go somewhere else and study something. In college, I worked at Old Bethpage Village Restoration because I grew up pretty close to there and I loved working at a living history museum. In college, I did an internship at the New York State Museum in Albany, I loved working there. As I was working in these museums and started taking anthropology classes and learned about the program at ASU, it just all came together.

Q: Where were you working prior to this position?

A. Immediately prior, I was the grant writer for Mercy Haven Inc., a nonprofit that provides housing for Long Island’s most vulnerable — so, people living with mental illness or families fleeing domestic violence. Prior to that, I was the executive director at Smithtown Historical Society for three years. So this is the same kind of position in different community.

Q: What was that like? How can use what you gained at Smithtown Historical Society to transition here?

A: At Smithtown, I gained experience in working with the day-to-day operations of another historical campus. That will probably help me in working with the staff here, and working with the board — again, it’s a very different community here. There’s a lot of pride and family continuity here. One of my challenges will be getting to know everybody and learning everybody’s family histories here. I was just getting my tea across the street at the Orient Country Store and there were like seven people in there, all of whom already knew who I was, but I didn’t know who any of them were! But I’m looking forward to meeting everybody and learning their family history and helping them celebrate their heritage and hopefully help them understand that what they’re doing today will be looked back as tomorrow’s history.

Q: What kind of events does the Historical Society host?

A: We have our first event coming up on Jan. 29. … It’s our annual member event in the city, because so many of the folks who are members live in the city, especially during winter months. So, we do a fundraising dinner and raffle event, then we have the North Fork Fresh in the summer — we have a summer benefit event in August. In winter, we have holiday programs, as well as lectures and programs that run throughout the year. 

Q: Earlier, you said one of the buildings maintains your artifacts collection. Why do you feel it’s important to preserve those local artifacts?

A: First of all, it’s important to be able to use them to educate people on their own community’s past. I think it’s important for people to be able to have a wide variety of artifacts for research purposes. I think what’s fun, in a community like this, is you go to an exhibit — like, this year we’re celebrating the 75th anniversary of the origin of the historical society — so we like to show photographs of people around that era, and you’ll be able to come and eventually pick out your grandparents or great-aunts and -uncles, and have an understanding of people from your childhood and how they created and morphed the town. Like I said earlier, how what you’re doing, and the decisions you’re making now, your grandchildren will be looking back on, too. People have been very generous in the past, and we want to invite people to share things they have, artifacts, in their homes.

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Photo caption: Marianne Howard stands outside one of the Oysterponds Historical Society’s buildings in Orient. (Kate Nalepinski photo)