A newsmaker you should know: Churilla helps keep track of history at Saint Vincent

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As a very young child, Lauren Churilla thought she’d like to be a pediatric nurse. But when she found out she had no aptitude for math or science — two subjects at the core of the discipline — she decided on another career path.

“I always had an interest in history and things of the past, so in college I became a history major,” she said. “However, I knew I didn’t want to go into education or law, two career paths history majors usually take, so I looked for alternatives.”

The answer came in 2007 while working as a volunteer archivist at Hartwood Acres in Glenshaw. Her experience there gave her a taste of what a history archivist does, and she decided to pursue a career in history archival, museum and editing studies because it gave her a chance to share her “knowledge of history with a public audience.”

When the Foster and Muriel McCarl Coverlet Gallery opened in 2008 at Saint Vincent College in Unity, she was one of the first students to become a collections assistant under the original gallery curator Sara Seldbauer. She worked from August to December 2008, when she graduated. Two years later, Ms. Churilla became the gallery’s second curator following her predecessor’s retirement.

Since being named curator, Ms. Churilla, of Murrysville, has assumed the duties of taking care of the collection of 388 textile pieces and an archive of more than 17,000 paper objects. These include photos and documentation of coverlets from all over the United States. Also in her charge are the personal papers and manuscripts of two noted coverlet researchers, Clarita Anderson and Katherine Hawthorne.

She also has responsibility for designing and curating ongoing exhibits and writing all their accompanying labels and texts.

Because Mr. McCarl, the major donor along with his wife, Muriel, died in 2005, Ms. Churilla wasn’t able to meet him, but she did meet Mrs. McCarl after being named curator. Following Mrs. McCarl’s death in August 2012, most of her contact with the family has been with two of the founders’ four sons - Jim McCarl of Bluffton, S.C., and Brian McCarl of Beaver.

“I try to talk to them at least once every other month to keep them informed as to what’s going on here at the gallery at Saint Vincent College,” she said. “Because the McCarl Foundation continues to fund the museum, I confer with them on our needs and ongoing projects.”

Two of her big responsibilities have been grant writing and developing educational programs, especially those focusing on children. In May 2013, the gallery launched an educational program she designed for children from kindergarten through the sixth grade. One of her long-range goals is to expand the museum’s educational programs for children

“Although the biggest challenge here at the museum is trying to balance all my duties to see that every aspect of my job gets the proper amount of attention. I feel it’s important for young children to get interested in the past,” she said. “History has so many stories to tell.”

As the curator of a still-young institution, Ms. Churilla said she is trying to get the word out that the museum is a “hidden treasure.” The year the gallery first opened, 1,800 visited. In 2013, gallery visitation climbed to more than 6,000, but Ms. Churilla wants to increase that number.

Recently, she’s worked closely with the Laurel Highlands Visitors Bureau to promote the museum. The bureau has responded by generating a significant number of bus tours and helped distribute museum brochures to several welcome centers and other locations throughout the region.. Under her leadership, the museum has also become a member of the Greater Pittsburgh Arts Council.

“People in Pittsburgh tend to think that Latrobe is far away, but it’s only a 50-minute drive,’’ she said.

In addition to her duties as curator, Ms. Churilla teaches a class in Pennsylvania history each semester at Saint Vincent and does historical research and writing, especially on turn-of-the-century Pittsburgh.

In her leisure time, Ms. Churilla and her husband, Corey, volunteer at the Middle Road Fire Department in Fox Chapel. She serves as fundraising chair, and he is on the board.

Avid outdoors people who enjoy hiking and camping, Ms. Churilla and her husband have also taken boxing classes at Fitness 1445 at the Center Ice Arena in Delmont since February 2013.

“Corey and I get to box with one another during the classes,” she said. "He never hits me hard, but he tells me I pack quite a punch.”

Dave Zuchowski, freelance writer; suburbanliving@post-gazette,com.

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