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Museum to conduct nationwide search for director

August 29, 2012
Diane Speer - Lifestyles Editor , The Alpena News

ALPENA -Though the Besser Museum for Northeast Michigan board of trustees has expressed pleasure over the performance of its interim director, Chris Witulski, a nationwide search for the position of executive director has been launched.

Witulski took over as interim director in October 2011 when the previous director, Elaine Grehl, resigned after just six months on the job.

Dr. Greg Adamus, who is heading up a four-member search committee, said the full board addressed the directorship vacancy at great length during a June retreat meeting and decided to form an initial search committee. Besides Adamus, Steve Lappan, Carol Witherbee and Gary Goren are helping with the search process.

"The board continues to be very pleased with the strong performance of our interim director, Chris Witulski," Adamus said. "Thanks to her leadership, the museum staff is currently exhibiting a very healthy synergy and showing great creative initiative. The spring and summer month exhibits and programs have been well structured and well attended. Consequently, visitor numbers and qualitative reviews are at an all-time high."

That being given, Adamus said the board believed it was important to ensure the credibility and support for the directorship position by opening up a search.

"Given this fortuitous situation, the board felt it was important in the long run to ensure the credibility and support for the directorship by conducting a wide-open national search," Adamus said. "In this manner, the eventual director will have been fairly vetted and chosen unquestionably as the best candidate for the position."

Besides placing an ad locally in The Alpena News, the board of trustees also is advertising the position with the Michigan Museum Association and the American Association of Museums.

"Whether or not the current search committee will eventually morph into an interview committee has yet to be determined," Adamus said. "Certainly, avenues will be explored to ensure the involvement of all the museum's stakeholders, friends and the community in the final selection process. Our main focus right now is to market the opening to determine the overall level of the field of applicants."

Witulski, who holds a bachelor's degree in liberal arts and certification in elementary education from Spring Arbor University, first joined the museum staff as education coordinator in March 2009. When former Executive Director Janet Smoak resigned in September 2010, she and Exhibits/Facilities Manager Randy Shultz stepped up to provide leadership until a new director (Grehl) was hired.

With the departure of Grehl, Witulski immediately was named interim director, a position she has now held for the past 10 months. She is the first director or interim director in many years with local roots.

One of 31 candidates to apply during the last nationwide search, Grehl was a native of Oakland County but had been working in Vermont. She replaced Smoak, of Salt Lake City, Utah, who joined the staff first as collections manager, but ultimately became executive director with the departure of Director Jan McLean. McLean, of Grand Junction, Colo., had replaced Dennis Bodem.

Bodem relocated to Alpena from a position with the State Historical Museum in Lansing. He served as executive director of the museum for 24 years.

A deadline of Oct. 10 has been set by the board of trustees for submitting applications for the current position.

Diane Speer can be reached via email at or by phone at 358-5691.



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