On Tuesday, August 15, 2017, after nine years, three months and three days, Todd Maxwell Pelfrey became the longest serving executive director in the 96-year history of the History Center.
Before being named executive director in November 2007, Pelfrey served nearly four years in several positions with the organization, including associate director, assistant director and education director.
“Attaining such endurance of leadership is particularly meaningful for an institution such as ours, which has the precious charge of collecting and celebrating our community’s vast and fascinating human history,” describes 39-year old Pelfrey. “With a mission of material permanence, the History Center preserves the collective memory of our unique heritage for today’s benefit and as a resource for future generations.”
The previously longest serving executive director was Michael Hawfield, who held the position from June 1982 until March 1992. Pelfrey and recently retired curator Walter Font also tallied the longest tenure of an executive director and curator tandem, surpassing the tenure of Hawfield and Font after the latter was hired in January 1983.
After its founding in February 1921, from 1923 until 1962 the organization’s first five paid curators functioned in hybrid positions of collections mangers and museum administrators. Beginning in 1962, the organization hired its first distinct executive director and, in the decades that followed, the average term of those eight executive directors was around five years.
As the ninth and longest serving executive director of the History Center, more than basic longevity, Pelfrey points to five critical areas of sustained growth, including record annual revenues, record capital revenues, record attendance, record school group participation and, most importantly, the longest streak of financial solvency and stability in the organization’s history.
“I have long held that the most successful non-profits are guided by those who consistently place both the organization’s mission and sustainability over their personal aspirations or individual interests. Today is certainly a landmark event in the history of our organization’s leadership, but it is far more important that our community understands and appreciates that in every measurable sense our vibrant organization is the most stable it has been in its nearly century of existence.”
During Pelfrey’s term, the History Center has never experienced an annual operating deficit, but rather has finished with solid operating surpluses in each of the past nine consecutive fiscal years. Prior to that time, the organization experienced operating deficits on average every three years. With Pelfrey at the helm, the History Center’s attendance has grown threefold, from serving 24,000 to nearly 70,000 visitors per year and total revenue has nearly doubled, from an average of less than $500,000 per year to nearly $1 million per year. Those totals include nearly $3 million in recent capital upgrades to the organization’s several facilities, including the 1893 Old City Hall Building (the History Center), the 1827 Chief Richardville House (named a National Historic Landmark in 2012) and the 1837 Barr Street Market (the oldest public space in Fort Wayne).