Fort Devens Museum

Archived Museum News: Aug 2004

Devens Historical Museum Hires Executive Director

August 13, 2004

By C. David Gordon,
Copyright Nashoba Publications

DEVENS — The appointment of Ian Meisner as the Devens Historical Museum's first executive director has been ratified by the museum's Board of Directors .

Meisner has already begun his new post with an office at the Devens Commerce Center.

For a museum largely devoted to telling the story of the men and women in the military who trained at Camp and then Fort Devens, Meisner brings experience as a member of the armed forces. His four-year stint in the U.S. Army began in 1996 as assistant operations officer with the rank of second lieutenant. At Schofield Barracks on the island of Hawaii, he "trained an infantry battalion in all aspects of nuclear, biological and chemical warfare," as he states on his resume.

Less than a year later as a first lieutenant he served as the adjutant and personnel officer for the battalion. In his last year to March 2000, with the rank of captain, he became protocol officer at Fort Shafter, Hawaii, "managing teams of officers and soldiers responsible for hosting foreign and United States dignitaries at the highest levels of the government and military."

Most recently Meisner worked for over a year as business development manager concentrating on marketing for the Expedition Whydah Sea Lab and Learning Center in Provincetown. He "developed a comprehensive marketing plan for a privately owned museum exhibiting the only documented pirate artifacts in the world," served with the crew on an archeological dig at the wreck of a pirate ship named the "Whydah," and carried out research on the subject. The latter took him to the Public Records Office and the archives of the Greenwich Maritime Museum in the United Kingdom.

While in Great Britain, Meisner spent time as a consultant for two businesses, first for a start-up firm, Zap Wireless Technologies LTD, then for the retail division of international hospitality firm Six Continents PLC.

Meisner earned a Bachelor's degree in hotel administration from Cornell University in 1996; a Master's degree in business administration at the University of Cambridge, UK, in 2003; and a certificate in the Estonian language at the University of Tartu in Estonia in 2001. Meisner's family came from Estonia.

Meisner has made his home in Edgartown, Massachusetts, and is seeking to reside in the Nashoba Valley area. He was born and raised on Martha's Vineyard.

Speaking of the interview and hiring process, museum Vice President Bert Tompkins told the Board of Directors that this candidate "stood out above all those interviewed." He is "personable," Tompkins said.

Reporting on her check of references, board member Marcia Synnott said all those contacted were "very positive on his personal skills and dedication."

In the letter he wrote to accompany his resume, Meisner wrote, "Although my academic and professional credentials will allow me to succeed in assisting with the development of the Devens Historical Museum, I believe that the most positive benefit I could bring to your staff would be my passion for military history." That fits with Tompkins's comment that "it's a dream job for him."

Meisner has the important task of leading the start-up museum to raise sufficient funds to restore the permanent home at Devens provided for the museum. Then he will be charged with helping to grow the museum's collection and activate its educational role in the community.

"I'm really looking forward to making this museum a reality," Meisner said on his first day of work at Devens. "The board has worked for so long on this."

He noted that Fort Devens had a museum, which closed with base closure.

"I'm honored to be a part of" this effort, he said, "to make something concrete and ready to be a part of the community."

More than 100 families now live at Devens. One of them is Lynn Cheney's. She is a child of military parents who lived in Harvard for 20 years. The base was a fixture in her environment, but one she rarely saw.

"I'd never set foot on base besides the Fourth of July,'' she said. "You just didn't go there.''

Until a few years ago, Ms. Cheney commuted from her home in Harvard to Acton, where she was president of Comrex Corp., a designer of high-tech broadcast equipment. But when the company was looking to expand two years ago, Devens represented a great opportunity.

"From a business perspective, it has the infrastructure that we need, but also the telecom infrastructure,'' she said. ``We have twice the space we had in Acton with about the same overhead.'' Since moving, the company has added to its work force and now has about 20 employees.

Ms. Cheney said she was so happy at Devens that she bought a home there. "It's great being less than a mile from work.'' And it's also great living in a close-knit and evolving community, she said.

The Devens community is diverse. Its residents include "empty nesters'' in their retirement years and young families in their first homes. Some hail from neighboring towns, others from Russia, China and Vietnam.

Earlier this month, Devens realized a milestone — the unveiling of its ZIP code: 01434.

"It's another step to really having an identity,'' Mr. Burke said.

At this point, the future of that identity remains an unknown. Growth is certain. There are 176 former military homes at Devens slated for rehabilitation and eventual sale. But in an effort to protect the values of local homes, the towns of Ayer, Lancaster, Harvard and Shirley capped the rehabilitation of the 1,764 housing units left when the fort closed to 282 homes. Soon, that threshold will be met.

One of the questions to be decided as the community grows is whether it will become a town in its own right.

"Over the next 18 months we'll wrestle and decide that question,'' Mr. Burke said.

The matter is expected to end up before residents of the four towns during future annual town meetings. If the towns agree to surrender their authority and permit Devens to become a town in its own right, it would be the first new municipality in Massachusetts since 1920, when East Brookfield split off from Brookfield.

But even if Devens never becomes an officially recognized municipal entity, its residents hope it will always be its own community.

"Everything is brand-new, relatively speaking,'' Ms. Cheney said. "There's a great feeling of neighborliness, and there's a high percentage of active participation. Everyone is on some committee or other.

"There is an interest on the part of the residents to keep that,'' she added, "no matter what happens.''