Fort Ligonier appoints director

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Trustees of Fort Ligonier have given a vote of confidence to their interim administrator, unanimously appointing Annie Urban as executive director of the historic site and museum.

Edward R. Weidlein III, president of the board of trustees, announced the decision at the recent annual meeting of the Fort Ligonier Association.

"We have all been tremendously impressed by Annie's abilities in many different areas over the past five years, and we felt the time had come to take this action," Mr. Weidlein said in a statement.

"Annie has dramatically elevated the educational focus and community outreach of the fort," Joseph M. Byers, past board president, said.

Ms. Urban was named interim director of operations following the 2011 retirement of longtime director Martin West. She came to Fort Ligonier as director of marketing and development in 2008, the year that marked the 250th anniversary of the construction of the fort. Under Ms. Urban's leadership, Fort Ligonier saw a 15 percent jump in attendance last year to more than 24,000 visitors.

Her team developed and introduced both professional development workshops for teachers and new educational programs for home-schooled students, Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts, according to Mr. Weidlein.

Interpretive materials have been revised at several buildings inside the fort during her tenure. The result "provides a more authentic experience for our visitors," Ms. Urban said.

Cannons, howitzers and gun carriages have been moved to the upper fort, where they were actually located in 1758.

"This work has been a labor of love of our restorationist, Brad Mooney," Ms. Urban said. Mr. Mooney, owner of Heritage Restorations, has reconstructed and restored most of Fort Ligonier over the past two decades.

Ms. Urban previously had been executive director of the Laurel Highlands Visitors Bureau and a manager with several hotels in the region. She earned a bachelor of arts degree in business management from Seton Hill University. In 2006, she received a master's degree in tourism administration from George Washington University.

Ms. Urban also serves as president of the Ligonier Valley Chamber of Commerce board and is a member of the Fort Ligonier Days Committee.

She said she believed her business and tourism experience would be helpful in the administration of Fort Ligonier, a re-creation of an 18th century British garrison, and its adjoining museum.

Running a historic site involves managing employees, writing grants, administering a budget and communicating with a board and the public. "I think my background will be extremely helpful with those duties," she said.

Fort Ligonier has five year-round employees and ramps up with another 10 workers, plus two or three college interns, as seasonal help.

Ms. Urban's duties include directing Fort Ligonier's marketing and development programs, overseeing financial and daily operations, coordinating events and special projects, and developing a long-term viability plan.

What drew her to the job? "I'm a Ligonier girl and I grew up here," she said. "I know how important this site is on a local level and on a national scale."

Fort Ligonier was one of a string of British forts built by Gen. John Forbes during his march across Pennsylvania to capture Fort Duquesne from the French. George Washington, serving as an aide to Forbes, was almost killed near the fort in a friendly-fire skirmish between two Virginia regiments in November 1758. The site's art collection includes a portrait of Washington at age 26 by Rembrandt Peale.

Later this summer the collection will grow with the addition of five 19th century Hudson River School paintings of French and Indian War sites.

Ms. Urban described her predecessor, Mr. West, as an outstanding historian. "I learned a great deal from him," she said. Her strengths in management and marketed will be augmented by the experience of other staff members in history, education and interpretation, she said. A director of history and collections will be added to the team by the end of the year.

neigh_east - neigh_westmoreland

Len Barcousky: lbarcousky@post-gazette.com or 724-772-0184.


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