Well-wishers flooded the offices of the Howard County Historical Society in early December, waiting to give their best to Shawn Gladden, the outgoing executive director.
“This is the man,” said Don Howell, retired battalion chief of Howard County Department of Fire and Rescue Services, nodding at Gladden. “He’s helped me a whole lot. The Howard County fire services are not a good curator of history.”
After almost nine years at the helm, Gladden stepped down on Dec. 31 and relocated to Lancaster, Pennsylvania. Fred Campbell took over this month as the historical society’s new executive director.
The Howard County Historical Society was founded in 1958 and is “the primary private repository of historical records and artifacts related to Howard County’s rich history,” according to its website. The society extends membership to any individual or corporation who pays annual dues and is governed by a board of directors, elected by the membership to three-year terms. Board members hire the executive director to handle day-to-day operations.
Though he is leaving the area, Gladden was quick to note that he would still be involved with the Howard County Historical Society. In fact, he is the curator for the upcoming “Ellicott Family Legacy” exhibit scheduled to open in February.
“I was pumped to do history here in my own county,” said Gladden, who was born and raised in Howard County. “A benefit was a lot of people I grew up with are in county government. People I collaborate with are people I played Little League with.”
From the start, Gladden was impressed with the historical society’s “state-of-the-art” archives. His main course of action was caring for the society’s Museum of Howard County History, at 8328 Court Ave., in Ellicott City.
“It was always run by volunteers, and no one with a museum background,” Gladden said. “They knew the collection and cared for it, but it didn’t feel like a museum.”
He worked to redefine the museum’s collection policy and improved on the museum’s exhibits and presentations.
“There was a loose collection policy that accepted anything that was dropped off, even if not county-related. It just had to be old,” Gladden said.
The museum’s exhibits, too, had to reflect all of Howard County, not just Ellicott City, where the museum is located.
“Shawn did a lot to increase membership. He did a lot of programing and he was great at doing displays and exhibits,” said Martha Clark, a board member whose family has long been active in the society. “He brought a lot of continuity.”
Ellicott City will be in the limelight this year as it celebrates its 250th anniversary. Aside from the exhibit overseen by Gladden, the society will host the opening of Ellicott’s Quaker School Children’s Museum in April and its popular holiday house tour will take place in Ellicott City this year.
All of this will fall to Campbell, the historical society’s new director, whom Gladden had been prepping to take the role since midsummer.
“Ellicott City 2022 is a big thing,” Campbell said. “2022 will be interesting to see how it goes with COVID still around.”
The pandemic has had an impact on the society’s volunteer base, as many were elderly and have not been able to return in person to help out, Gladden said, affecting research opportunities, office management and special events. More high school and college age volunteers have begun signing up to help, Gladden said, and he believes Campbell has a good foundation to build on.
“Our [volunteer] numbers are going up,” Campbell said. “There are a dozen [volunteers] ... that are active.”
Campbell also hopes to build on the society’s programs, which include the popular Lunch Dates with History lecture series on the first Friday of every month and the holiday bus tours.
A former college professor, Campbell said he hopes to lead more bus trips to focus on topics such as the National Road. He would also like to see more diverse groups featured in the museum.
“Our voices need to be broader,” Campbell said.
Campbell will “have a lot of projects to juggle,” Gladden said, and he has the “capability and temperament” to do it.
Clark, too, is confident Campbell can handle the job.
“We are happy to have Fred there,” Clark said. “He will continue to work on the Ellicott City 250 and working with a lot of people.”
Fred Dorsey worked with Gladden numerous times via Preservation Howard County. Dorsey also wished Gladden well upon his departure in December.
“There are just a number of things he has done that really fired up the importance of the historical society to the entire county,” Dorsey said, and he hopes that will continue under Campbell’s leadership.
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“I look forward to extending our relationship,” he said.