Historical Society of Carnegie seeks leadership, new direction

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The leadership and direction of the Historical Society of Carnegie will be at stake Tuesday when the board of directors gathers for its monthly meeting -- the first since the resignations of three key officers.

President Marcella McGrogan, Robert DeBar and Joan Harbin resigned Sept. 4. All said they would remain as volunteers. No one has submitted a written resignation.

Candidates to fill the vacant seats are aligned either with Mrs. McGrogan, 88, historical society founder, or interim president Dan Burns, 23, who is temporary chairman because "I was the only officer left." Both Mrs. McGrogan and Mr. Burns have obtained legal counsel in a battle that has spilled over into the community.

"The whole thing is a circus," said Carnegie Mayor Jack Kobistek. "There are different people at every board meeting I've been to."

Mrs. McGrogan said she is sorry she gave up her position. "I should never have walked out, [but] I resigned because I was hurt. I resigned without any pre-thought at all," she said, explaining that the Sept. 4 meeting was the first she had attended since undergoing surgery in July. She was available by phone all summer and was upset in part because written agendas were passed out that she hadn't seen.

Her resignation was followed by Mr. DeBar's and later that of Ms. Harbin.

Mr. Burns, who is studying business administration at the University of Pittsburgh while holding several part-time jobs, has been involved with the historical society since he was a teenager and has operated its second-hand boutique.

He called Mrs. McGrogan "an awesome figurehead" and has offered her the position of executive director emeritus, which she declined.

"As the founder, she's afraid to let go," Mr. Burns said. "She's afraid if she's not there the historical society won't exist."

Mrs. McGrogan, who re-sumed her volunteer work at the nonprofit organization, said Mr. Burns has not followed through on his duties, which include in part developing a business plan, preparing newsletters and reinstating the restaurant raffle.

Instead, he proposed the initiation of a $2 million to $3 million capital campaign to raise revenue for the completion of renovations at the four-story building, which was built in 1896 by Edward G. Husler. The oldest commercial structure in town, it once housed a dance hall and was the site of Carnegie's first movie theater.

He believes the renovations, which are to include a banquet hall and a theater, could supply rental space that would provide income for the historical society.

He launched a membership drive, too.

As to criticism that he is taking over the historical society, Mr. Burns said, "Do they really expect me to sit here till next month and just twiddle my thumbs? I'm doing the best I can."

Meanwhile, the standoff continues. Mrs. McGrogan has not turned over the non-profit's checkbook.

Mr. Burns, in turn, has gotten a new lock for the historical society's post office box.

She believes he hasn't put in enough time to understand the historical society's workings while he thinks she's not up to the task anymore.

Mrs. McGrogan counters that her major health issue is stress.

"He has this place so upside down it isn't even funny," she said. "We all have these kind of dreams. These shots have been called before."

Mrs. McGrogan should know, since it was she and her late husband, Dan, who originated the historical society in October 1990 and bought the former Husler Building in October 1997. A Post-Gazette article published Aug. 1, 1996 about the historical society's quest for a permanent home indicates that officials then were planning for a banquet hall and kitchen. Over the years, she has paid many of the organization's bills from personal funds.

The wooden 90-foot miniature Main Street replica of 1940s Carnegie built by the late Walter Stasik remains the society's major attraction, but there's also a military wall, research and video sections and memorabilia.

Elected officials have been drawn into the recent fray and some are expected to attend the meeting, which is open to the public and start at 6:30 p.m. in the Carnegie Borough Building.

But to what extent council members will get involved is yet to be seen.

"Council has interest in the historical society, but we can't run their business for them," said council President Rick D'Loss. "We just have to work through this."


Carole Gilbert Brown, freelance writer: suburbanliving@post-gazette.com


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