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Farewell To Los Alamos Historical Society Retiring Executive Director Heather McClenahan

on April 18, 2019 - 10:10am

Los Alamos Historical Society Executive Director Heather McClenahan bids farewell Monday to Oppie and Groves. Photo by Carol A. Clark/ladailypost.com

 

By CAROL A. CLARK
Los Alamos Daily Post

Los Alamos Historical Society Executive Director Heather McClenahan will retire from full-time museum work April 26. She became executive director in May 2011, following the retirement of Hedy Dunn.

During an interview Monday with the Los Alamos Daily Post, McClenahan spoke about her most “spectacular day” on the job.

“I remember it well … Nov. 10, 2015 … when I watched Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewel and Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz sign the Manhattan Project National Historical Park into existence,” McClenahan said. “That event occurred after a two-day scholars forum where we had people from all over the country and Hiroshima and Nagasaki talking about what the park should be about – which themes, what visitors should be able to learn about and how the exhibits would be displayed between three discontinuous places: Los Alamos, Oak Ridge and Hanford.”

McClenahan gives much credit to U.S. Sen. Martin Heinrich (D-NM) for his major role in getting the MPNHP through Congress.

“He really worked hard to make it happen and I’m very grateful to him,” she said.

Upon hearing of her retirement, Sen. Heinrich sent a message to the Daily Post expressing his appreciation and good wishes for McClenahan.

“Heather McClenahan is a tremendous advocate with a knack for making history fun and engaging,” Sen. Heinrich said. “I am grateful for all of the work she has done for her community and for her integral role in establishing the Manhattan Project National Historical Park – an important site that helps tell the story of the creation of the world’s first atomic bomb and its consequences for society. I wish her the best and offer my congratulations on her retirement.”  

The second most spectacular day during McClenahan’s tenure at the helm of the Historical Society was Dec. 30, 2016 – the reopening of the History Museum following renovations and expansion.

“It marked the culmination of our multi-million-dollar fundraising campaign, President Truman’s grandson was here, and we had this fabulous new museum to show our community,” McClenahan said.

She recalled a major challenge she encountered when first starting her job as executive director.

“It was engaging the Historical Society in the community, developing partnerships and getting a seat at the table and making sure the Historical Society voice was being heard,” she said. “The Historical Society has partnered with the Fuller Lodge Art Center, Cultural District and Nature Center and doing joint projects.”

McClenahan recalls moving the historical archives as another big challenge. The archives were housed on the second floor of Fuller Lodge in the west wing and a pipe burst on a cold winter night in January of 2011 and flooded the room, she said. There was less damage than first thought, but the archives were moved to the Community Building for two years and then in 2013 over to the Municipal Building.

McClenahan thanks the people around her who have helped her make the Historical Society such a success.

“I have had the privilege to be the face of this organization, but I could not have done it without an absolutely incredible board of directors and terrific staff and volunteers,” she said. “They are the ones who really keep things ticking.”

Historical Society Board President Mike Wheeler addressed McClenahan's retirement.

I am very sorry to see Heather McClenahan leaving, Wheeler said. She served as executive director of the Los Alamos Historical Society for nearly a decade. During that time a very nice local community museum became a nationally recognized museum presenting the stories of one of the most important events in the past century. Because of Heather’s vision and enormous efforts, the LAHS has become one of the finest organizations in the community. An organization that we are all proud of. My only regret is that Heather cannot stay a few more years. She will be missed.

Historical Society Past Board President Ron Wilkins also praised the job McClenahan has done.

“The Historical Society made tremendous progress under Heather’s leadership. She was involved in so many things that she became the very face of the society,” Wilkins said.

During the interview, McClenahan also spoke of her passion for history.

“History is always about connections and there is so many different aspects to our community,” she said. “Pueblos, Homesteaders, the Ranch School and of course the Manhattan Project, and I guess despite what so many of us are taught in school, history is not about just names and dates, it’s about real people, which is just fascinating to me.”

She also spoke of family history.

“My grandfather was one of the people who didn’t have to invade Japan after WWII.”

Her husband Bob McClenahan has a long history with Los Alamos in that his father Bob, Sr., moved to town in 1947 and went to work with the pro force at the Lab. His mother was longtime Los Alamos resident Rose Marie (Babe) McClenahan.

“I was born in Las Cruces, but my husband grew up in Los Alamos and that’s really the reason we moved here in in 1999,” McClenahan said. “We were living in Florida and the kids were getting old enough to start school and we wanted to live in a community with excellent schools. Bob got a job at Los Alamos National Laboratory, so we moved here.”

All three of their children attended elementary, middle school and high school in Los Alamos, she said. Emily, 23, is now in graduate school at Illinois Tech, Collin, 21, is a welder in Portland, Ore. and Kathryn, 19, is pursuing a mechanical engineering degree at New Mexico Tech.

“My family was as married to the history museum as I was,” McClenahan said. “They are all going into technical fields but have a love of history.”

The McClenahan’s will celebrate their 28th wedding anniversary in June. In his job at the Lab, Bob “cleans up water”. He plans to retire this summer. In speaking about his wife’s retirement, he laughed saying, “She’s too young!”

“Ever since we were dating, we’ve always loved history and most of the books Heather reads are related to Los Alamos directly or indirectly … so she’s looking forward to reading other things,” he said. “And we have plans to travel and we’ll get to learn the history of all the places we are going to visit.”

The McClenahan’s plan to spend the next few years traveling through South America and Europe.

“Our children are off on their own and we are relatively young and healthy, so we have a window of opportunity, and there’s a big world to explore and we love exploring history,” she said. “We want to travel in countries where it’s warm with good hiking and diving opportunities.”

Following her retirement, McClenahan also will continue to be engaged with Los Alamos history, working on a book, teaching and consulting. As part of her new adventures in traveling the world, McClenahan will serve as a foreign correspondent for the Los Alamos Daily Post, so watch for her posts from abroad in the coming months.

As the interview wrapped up, McClenahan expressed a desire to leave the community with one final wish:

“There are people in the world who try to denigrate our history and revise our history and I would like to charge our community to not let it be forgotten and not let it be distorted … it’s too important … it means too much,” McClenahan said.

Historical Society Board Member Cherie Trottier will take a leave of absence from the board to serve as interim director until the new executive director takes over the position.

Los Alamos Historical Society Executive Director Heather McClenahan in her office last Thursday is retiring April 26 after nearly a decade of service. Photo by Carol A. Clark/ladailypost.com


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