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Mark Letzer named Maryland Historical Society's executive director

Newly named Historical Society director wants Marylanders to know their history.

The Maryland Historical Society turned to an internal candidate for its new executive director, announcing Friday that it had named chief development officer Mark Letzer to the post.

Beginning July 1, he replaces Burt Kummerow, who spent the past five years as the society's president and chief executive officer, said Richard Tilghman, vice chairman of the board of trustees.

Over approximately the same period, Letzer has been in charge of fundraising as the society's chief development officer. In his new role, his biggest goal is "to work with new and diverse audiences," he said Friday.

"I really want to appeal to different generations that are maybe not using the society as much as they could be," Letzer said. "I want to bring in all sorts of diverse people of Maryland."

Letzer's promotion has been in the works for about six months, Tilghman said.

The 171-year-old-institution has an annual budget of $2.5 million, a historical society spokeswoman said. It preserves more than 7 million documents about Maryland history, according to its website. As keeper of Francis Scott Key's original manuscript of "The Star Spangled Banner," it played an important role in last year's bicentennial of the Battle of Baltimore.

Among the final achievements under Kummerow's watch was the acquisition of the world's largest collection of the works of the late Baltimore artist Jacob Glushakow.

Kummerow said Friday that he planned to continue to work with the society with his company, Historyworks Inc., which specializes in historical storytelling.

Letzer, a native of Panama who moved to Maryland in 1989, first became involved with the society in 1995, when he and historian Jean Russo began work on their book, "The Diary of William Faris: The Daily Life of an Annapolis Silversmith." (The Maryland Historical Society Press published the first edition in December 2002.) Letzer also curated an exhibit in 2006 and was deputy director of community relations before becoming chief development officer. He lives in Cockeysville.

Letzer's extensive knowledge of the society's collections and his familiarity with the staff and Board of Trustees made him the right choice, Tilghman said.

"I think we felt pretty strongly that we could search and search and search, and we probably wouldn't find anybody that would be any better," Tilghman said. "To get someone of this caliber who hits the ground running, we consider it to be an incredible benefit."

Letzer said his goals include making the society's permanent collections more integrated. He also plans to tell Maryland's history in ways new to the society.

"I want to take our permanent collections and make them more visible, and make them a lot more focused on an object telling a story," Letzer said. "Sometimes an object alone can tell a story."

Ultimately, Letzer said, through the institution, he hopes to raise residents' awareness of their own histories.

"We are Maryland's memory, and we are the repository for Maryland's past," Letzer said. "I want every Marylander to feel at home coming here because their story is here."

wesley.case@baltsun.com

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