Past Cowtown curator to be museum director

ORIGINALLY WRITTEN DON RATZLAFF
The future of Hillsboro’s history may have taken a significant step forward with the appointment of Stan R. Harder as the city’s new museum director.

The appointment, announced at Tuesday’s Hillsboro City Council meeting, brings to the part-time position a person with extensive experience in open-air history museum management, including 20 years as curator of the Old Cowtown Museum in Wichita.

“I think the hiring of the new museum director is pretty significant because Stan brings to this job a whole new dimension of skills and a network we really haven’t seen before,” said City Administrator Steven Garrett.

“We’ve got a really good foundation, and Stan has the materials to build on that foundation. We were pretty lucky to get somebody of his caliber for our museum.”

Richard Wall, chairman of the Hillsboro Historical Society and Museum Board, agreed.

“I’m extremely excited,” Wall said. “He’s so qualified it isn’t funny.

“Everything I’ve heard him say, given how little I’ve talked with him yet, convinces me the museum is going to move up several grades,” Wall added. “We’re going to improve tremendously with his leadership.”

Harder was born in Hillsboro. After living elsewhere for sometime, the Harder family returned to Hillsboro in the early 1970s.

Stan Harder lived here for about 21/2 years during the mid-1970s after teaching U.S. history for three years in South Dakota.

While in Hillsboro, Harder was part of a real estate and oil investment business that was active in several states.

In 1977, Harder was appointed curator at the Old Cowtown Museum, where he was responsible for the development and management of the curatorial department.

Among Harder’s varied duties was overseeing the acquisition of collections; restoring, conserving and caring for collections; cultivating donors, and researching and designing exhibits.

Harder also managed a staff of 15 employees and interns and was involved in strategic planning, research and writing.

While at Cowtown, Harder was given an award by the city of Wichita for his work in historic preservation.

Since leaving Cowtown in 1997, Harder has written a government textbook for Kansas high schools and helped research a Kansas history textbook for grade school students.

He has also owned a business in Wichita that specializes in retail art and antiques.

“I never imagined we’d ever be able to draw somebody with his qualifications,” Wall said. “He’s so well qualified and has so much experience-plus he comes with a real interest in Hillsboro history and has a connection with Hillsboro.

“He’s not an outsider coming in who has to learn about our heritage, because he’s part of it.”

Garrett said Harder’s experience working with government entities will help clarify and strengthen the relationship between the city council and the Historical Society.

“Since I’ve been here, I have not had a clear picture of how the Historical Society relates to the city,” Garrett said. “I would describe it as hit and miss.

“The Historical Society understands the need to change this, and Stan sees the need for this position to fall under the leadership of the city administrator with advice and counsel on the part of the Historical Society.”

Garrett said clearer lines of responsibility should, for example, enable the Historical Society to concentrate more on the promotion of Hillsboro’s history and less on the more mundane concerns of maintaining the grounds and facilities.

Wall said the city’s Heritage Park complex-which includes the Adobe House, Friesen Mill and Kreutziger School-improved greatly under the leadership of former director David Wiebe, but Harder will bring resources and experiences that will take the city’s historical attractions to the next level.

“I’m just tickled pink,” Wall said. “I can’t wait to see what happens in the next couple of years because I think we’ll improve tremendously.”

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