The Mount Desert Island Historical Society is implementing a plan for leadership succession and growth with the appointment of Raney Bench to the role of Executive Director and Tim Garrity, Executive Director since 2010, to a new position of Historian. Under the plan, the organization will expand its educational and community outreach programming and increase its capacity for historical research, writing, and teaching.

Garrity informed the board a year ago of his desire to make way for a new leader and to focus on strengthening the organization’s capacity for historical interpretation. A board-appointed task force worked to develop a plan for leadership succession and advancement of the society’s mission. The task force decided to look first within the organization and recognized that Bench, a member of the society’s board, was extraordinarily well qualified. At the same time, she expressed her interest in leading the society into its next phase of growth. Bench recused herself from board discussions of the selection process and resigned from the board prior to applying for the position. In its meeting of November 4, 2019, the board voted unanimously to endorse the succession plan and offer the position to Bench. 

Bench has over twenty years’ experience as a leader in the museum field. On Mount Desert Island, she served as Curator of Education for the Abbe Museum from 2007 to 2014 and Executive Director of the Seal Cove Auto Museum since 2014. She holds a Master of Arts degree in Museum Studies from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and a Bachelor of Arts in Native American Studies from Humboldt State University. In her career, she has worked extensively in all aspects of nonprofit museum management with a strong focus on education and community outreach. 

Beginning in 2020, the society will expand its educational outreach efforts, building on active relationships with Mount Desert Island schools, University of Maine, and College of the Atlantic. At the K-12 level, the organization will devote resources to working with teachers and curriculum leaders, identifying points of entry at various grades for historical learning to enhance and complement what educators are already doing. According to Julie Meltzer, Director of Curriculum, Assessment, and Instruction for Mount Desert Island Regional School System, “We consider the MDI Historical Society to be a valued Education Partner. We look 

forward to continuing to collaboratively explore and expand the ways we can work together to engage our students in meaningful learning about MDI’s past and present.” 

In addition to increasing the society’s capacity for historical research, writing, and teaching, Garrity will continue to edit the society’s award-winning journal, Chebacco, develop age-appropriate curriculum materials for students to use in classroom projects, and support collaborative relationships with the University of Maine, College of the Atlantic, and other institutions. 

Reflecting back on his time as Executive Director, Garrity said, “These have been the most satisfying years of my professional life but now I’m thrilled to pass the torch to Raney. I have a rare chance to work full time as a historian and I’m grateful to our members and donors who have made it possible.” 

As she prepares for her new role, Bench said, “While serving on the board of the society for the past eight years I have appreciated the innovative leadership and commitment to the island community valued by the society and its leadership. I am excited for the opportunity to grow the education initiatives of the society, helping to make stronger connections between our local history and important national and world events. My goal is to help people of all ages and interests understand why history is important, and how it informs and transforms our lives today and into the future.” 

“Raney has been an extraordinary executive director for the past six years,” said Liz McMullan, President of the Seal Cove Auto Museum Board. “We are so grateful for all of the energy, expertise, and effort she has put into the museum. We will miss her, and look forward to continuing our collaborative relationships with the historical society. We wish Raney all the best in her new endeavors.” 

In announcing the new plan, Board President Bill Horner said, “We are fortunate to have a highly engaged and thoughtful board that is willing to invest time and talent in new ideas that project our vision into the future. I am very proud of their hard work in devising this plan. Tim has done a magnificent job for nine years and now is excited to spend less time on nonprofit management and more time pursuing his passion for history. In Raney Bench, we have a superb leader who is going to launch a new and exciting phase of service to the community.” 

Bench and Garrity will assume their new roles on January 1, 2020.

Photographs are courtesy of Jennifer Steen Booher