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East End Seaport Museum welcomes new executive director

The East End Seaport Museum & Marine Foundation in Greenport has a new captain: Barbara Poliwoda of Southold, who grew up on the water and comes from a family of mariners.

The museum, which is dedicated to preserving the East End’s maritime history, has been in operation for just a month shy of 26 years.

Museum board chairman Paul Kreiling said, “What we need — and her skills lend themselves to that — is we need more fundraising and more organization as far as events.”

Ms. Poliwoda did that and more during 23 years as regional director for the American Heart Association, where she planned events, implemented programs, advocated for CPR training in schools and played a role in development. She has lived in Southold for 25 years and has been an active community member.

During her time with AHA, she developed professional relationships with groups like East End Cardiology in Riverhead, where she met Lori Latney, who is now regional director for NYU Winthrop Hospital, which owns the practice.

“She’s a great person,” said Ms. Latney. “We were major [AHA] sponsors for many years. This year, they honored two of my physicians. We have also done the 5K races for many years at the vineyards.”

“She worked for the [AHA] and we’re very involved because we’re cardiologists,” Ms. Latney said. Due to their long association, she added, East End Cardiology plans to support Ms. Poliwoda’s new endeavor, and may very well be one of the major sponsors for this year’s East End Maritime Festival, organized by EESM.

“I was hired [at AHA] 23 years ago by Ted Webb — he’s an Orient resident, and was actually on the board of the East End Seaport Museum for many years,” Ms. Poliwoda said.

That job took her into the city and to the Hamptons and although she often worked at home, she said she occasionally had to visit the association’s Plainview office.

“I’ve spent a lot of years driving around. I wanted to take my skill set more local. And I also — I just felt a change was needed,” she said.

As luck would have it, while perusing a copy of The Suffolk Times last winter, Ms. Poliwoda came across an ad EESM had placed seeking candidates for the executive director position. Both her husband and son are mariners, and growing up on the water has established in her a fascination for preserving maritime history, so she decided to apply.

“I’m from Babylon and my family has been a member of the Babylon Yacht Club my whole life,” she said. “I took sailing lessons, I was on the swim team, I boated with my father my whole life out on the Great South Bay … clamming … while my dad was clamming with his rake and bringing my friends out, introducing them to clamming.”

She said that when she met her husband, a bayman, and told him she clammed with her father, they instantly had a connection.

“We summered on Fire Island. I’ve done it all on the water: sailing, motorboats, fishing, clamming, all of it.”

While Ms. Poliwoda’s responsibilities at AHA weren’t the same as those she’ll assume at EESM, she said, “What I did for the last 23 years, the subject is different, but my job was to raise awareness and bring volunteers together to work toward common goals. I feel like this is the same type of thing, only a very different subject.”

When she officially joined the team early this month — after some training time — she organized cocktail parties to invite community feedback and expand the museum’s membership. Community input, she said, is very important to furthering the museum’s goals.

Citing the many inviting restaurants and wineries tourists often flock to, she said, “I just think it’s so important that they also learn about the history and, really, the heritage, other than just coming out here to party and enjoy the culture.”

Mr. Kreiling, who joined the board in November and became chairman a few months later, said that of the roughly 40 applicants, Ms. Poliwoda’s background stood out. That, and the recommendation from former board member and longtime museum contributor Mr. Webb, sealed the deal.

“She has that background. That’s what we were looking for and I believe that’s what we got,” Mr. Kreiling said. “I’m quite pleased … A local person was way better just from the nature of knowing how the farm is run.”

He said he views the executive director position as one that involves overseeing the museum’s functionality and managing the team’s outreach measures.

Specifically, the Southold resident said she looks forward to adding new activities to the Maritime Festival, continuing to improve Chowder Fest, digitizing and expanding the museum and raising the funds necessary to restore and maintain Greenport’s renowned Long Beach Bar “Bug” Lighthouse, which has, over the years, grown dilapidated.

“People are very familiar with her, especially boaters and yachters,” Ms. Poliwoda said. “She has overcome some vandalism in the ’60s, definitely in the ’90s, and she is gong to be 30 years old in December. She definitely needs some TLC.”

The lighthouse was built in 1870, and the museum was originally established to reconstruct it after it was destroyed by arsonists July 4, 1963. An outpouring of community support, donations and labor resulted in a near replica of the original Bug Light structure. The museum now owns the lighthouse and is responsible for its upkeep and for ensuring that the U.S. Coast Guard maintains its light, according to the museum’s website.

Discussing the museum’s mission going forward, Mr. Kreiling said that, in addition to the Land & Sea Gala, which kicks off the Maritime Festival, and lighthouse cruises, restoring Bug Light is at the top of the board’s list and is the reason he joined in the first place.

“We are in the beginning [phases] of gathering information so that we know how much is expected, therefore we can create the events with some reasonable expectations,” he said. “It’s a new museum, it really is. I mean, it’s a new process. We’re trying to be more community directed. Without changing its location, we changed its mission. Instead of being at the bottom of Third Street, it’s now at the hub of the transportation center.”

The museum, Mr. Kreiling said, is the gateway to the community for anybody who’s traveling.

Photo caption: Barbara Poliwoda of Southold, recently named executive director of East End Seaport Museum in Greenport, grew up in a family of mariners. (Credit: Mahreen Khan)

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