Jul. 3—Richard Lartz II wants to write an exciting and prosperous new chapter for the Barton County Historical Society Museum as he takes over as the museum's new executive director.
Lartz officially took over the reins of the museum May 17 from previous co-directors Leslie Helsel and the late Karen Neuforth, who passed away in March.
Like many pioneers who settled the region whose history he now oversees, he described his path to the directorship in Great Bend as, "an indirect route."
The small-town Wisconsin native graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee in 2014 with a degree in public history and certificates in museum studies and non-profit management.
Following his graduation, he spent time in Wisconsin, working on a display for a food pantry in his hometown of Mukwonago, a town of roughly 7,300 people a few miles southwest of Milwaukee.
His museum work then took him to rural Wyoming, where he worked for the Carbon County Museum as an exhibit developer before making his way to Kansas and the Santa Fe Trail Center in Larned. Lartz spent three and a half years there, serving as the exhibit developer for the museum's recently-completed gallery renovation project.
While there, he met and married his wife Andrea, who is currently the shelter manager at the Pawnee County Humane Society. The two, along with their two dogs and cats, still call Larned home.
Lartz said he has always had a passion for history and how to present it to the masses.
"The thing that I love about the museum environment is that it's a very open, free learning environment," Lartz said. "You gravitate towards the things that you find interesting, versus the more traditional school or lecture kind of format where you're sitting at a desk and taking notes and somebody is telling information to you."
Though he has always had an interest in the American West, that was not initially his intended field of study. As an undergraduate, he said, his study focused on modern east Asian history.
As his work brought him west, though, it reignited his passion for the region's history.
"Whether it was (people) moving onto the prairies or the formation of the transcontinental railroads, there's really a lot of stuff there," he said.
Vision for the future
As he dives into his new role as the BCHS Museum Director, Lartz sees many opportunities for growth.
One of his first goals, he said, is to increase the museum's presence within the community. He would like to see the museum host more events, both sponsored by the museum and events hosted by other organizations at the museum.
His primary goal to begin with is to draw more local visitors to come out and learn a little bit more about their own history.
He noted, though, part of drawing more visitors to the museum also means working to improve the visitor experience.
Because people learn in so many different ways, he said, he would like to create more dynamic ways to present the exhibits the museum currently has and focus on interpretation, rather than just explanation.
"I'd like to have things that grab the eye and hold it, and also provides you with information," he said.
He would also like to provide more hands-on elements similar to what was done during his work on at SFTC.
"It's nice to look at old things, but I think it's an important part of the human experience to touch and feel things," he said.
While he understands there are more concerns about that in a post-COVID environment, he said those concerns are easy to address through proper sanitization measures.
To get there, though, he said there are many things he would like to address. Currently, the museum has a significant backlog of donated items in its collection, and he decided to put a temporary freeze on accepting any more items to allow the staff time to work through that backlog.
He also wants to improve visitor experience through updating the museum's technology. He would like to improve wi-fi access for visitors, as well as begin to offer credit and debit card readers to allow additional methods of payment for admission and souvenirs at the museum.
Along with drawing more visitors through word-of-mouth, he would like to see the museum increasingly leverage its social media presence to draw both local and out-of-town visitors.
Though there is a lot to undertake, Lartz is ready to grab the reins and guide the museum into its next chapter.