NORTH BENNINGTON — Christopher Oldham is stepping down as executive director of the Park-McCullough Historic Governor’s Mansion, and Stacey New is exiting as board president, the nonprofit announced Thursday.
Oldham, who has led the organization for nearly four years, said he is making the change to take on a marketing role with a local company, which he could not identify at this time. He also wants to spend more time with his young family. His last day will be June 16.
“I’m confident it’s a better place than when I started. That was my goal,” he said. “We have very competent people that I feel will take this place to the next step.”
“I’m grateful to those who had confidence in me to lead the organization and for showing the mansion overwhelming support,” he said in an announcement issued by the nonprofit’s board of directors. “I feel so fortunate to have been on this journey. I am sad to leave, but looking forward to the future and spending more quality time with my family.”
The property reopens for the season this weekend, and on Sunday, it will celebrate Community Day with free house tours, the new “Alice in Wonderland” exhibit, a bake sale, and cash bar on the veranda.
“We have no plans to slow down. We want to build on the growth of the last few years and the leadership Chris and Stacey have provided us,” said Kelly Clarke Harrington, the board’s vice president. “The board is going to take this opportunity to ask some big questions about our strategic direction and how to best serve the community.”
Under Oldham, the property – a well preserved country estate in the Second Empire Style incorporating architectural features of the Romantic Revival – was rebranded as the “Historic Governor’s Mansion,” highlighting its role as the home of Gov. Hiland Hall and Gov. John G. McCullough. It was built by attorney and entrepreneur Trenor Park in 1864-65, and President Benjamin Harrison stayed there during his visit to dedicate the Bennington Battle Monument in 1891.
“I’m really proud of the fact we were able to bring new life into the mansion and reintroduce the mansion to the public,” Oldham said of his proudest accomplishment in nearly four years at the helm. “We were able to get our community engaged and really turn the mansion into a community and cultural hub. I feel it like has so much potential and we had just scratched the surface.”
New is leaving before her term ends due to a relocation of her family, the nonprofit said in an announcement. Clarke Harrington, a local architect, has been named interim board president.
Clarke Harrington credited New with overhauling the nonprofit’s governance and financial processes, while also providing a strategic direction that balanced tradition with future efforts for Park-McCullough.
“We are in a strong position moving forward because of the less-than-glamorous, but critically important organizational work Stacey has been leading us through,” Clarke Harrington said. “We are incredibly grateful for her dedication and will miss her terribly as she relocates with her family to Pennsylvania. Personally, I have appreciated her mentorship, wisdom, and kindness during my time on the board.”
For Oldham, who turns 43 next month, the Victorian mansion and its grounds have been a passion ever since his first visit, as a fourth grader on a field trip with Village School of North Bennington teacher Pat Gibbons. (Her current class planned to visit the mansion Friday, he said.)
“My first date with my now wife (Amanda) was on the property. I proposed to her inside the mansion,” Oldham said. “It just so happens she went into labor with our first son Jackson at the garden gala. And we got married at the mansion as well.”
Jackson, who turns 5 in July, has since been joined by a baby brother, Christopher, who turns a year old next month.
“Life was different when I first became executive director,” he said – as it was at his previous role at the Bennington County Coalition for the Homeless. “My time with my children and my wife is valuable.”
That said, Oldham plans to remain part of the Park-McCullough community, “and watch from afar as the museum continues to evolve and change and be a real beacon of light for so many people — now I’ll be one of them, at events, volunteering and getting so much out of being a member.”
Clarke Harrington, who has served as vice-president for two years, has lived in Vermont for more than 12 years. A registered architect, Clarke Harrington worked for Centerline Architects for 10 years with a focus on historic preservation and higher education, before transitioning to her current role at Siena College as director of design and construction.
The wife of Southwestern Vermont Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Matt Harrington, Clarke Harrington has served on the Shires Young Professionals board, volunteered at many Chamber events including Garlic Town USA, served on the Better Bennington Corporation board and is credited with the design of the popular Park at 336.
“I’m sure all of this leadership change might come as a shock to many in our community, however we want community members and visitors alike to know that Park-McCullough will continue to be open and serve the community as it has for the past 60 years,” she said.