FRAMINGHAM — When Annie Murphy took over as executive director of what was then the Framingham Historical Society about 17 years ago, she knew one of the first things she would do was change the organization's name.
"Early on, I was determined that we change our name from the Framingham Historical Society to the Framingham History Center because I felt it would be more welcoming," she said in a recent interview with the Daily News. "It would appear less snooty."
It may seem like a minor change, but it is perhaps emblematic of Murphy's run as director. Under her guidance, the History Center has been transformed from a small, obscure organization to a well-known institution in the city that regularly puts on thought-provoking and exciting programming.
Murphy said it's essential for the public to understand how fun and exciting history can be, and that the local history center can do innovative work.
Earlier this month, Murphy announced her retirement; she leaves in May.
The Daily News caught up with her earlier to ask her about her experience at the History Center and her plans.
The interview has been condensed for clarity:
What are some of your proudest accomplishments at the Framingham History Center?
I would say that I'm extremely proud of the staff that we have on board right now. I just think they are very talented and everybody works so well together. They are great and innovative, and we're coming up with new stuff all the time.
Then there were the three Town Meeting votes. Over the course of my tenure here, we needed to secure long-term leases for the three (History Center) buildings in order to raise money. The first two meetings were for money to basically put a new roof on the (Edgell Memorial) Library and make repairs to the (Old) Academy (Building), and also somewhat at the Village Hall. And then at Framingham's last Town Meeting, they approved up to $2.5 million for the Village Hall to put a new elevator in there and to make it handicap accessible and do other repairs as well. I'm just very proud of those community moments.
The other thing was in 2010, when we were chosen by the National Trust for Historic Preservation to compete in the Partners and Preservation competition for grants up to $100,000 for our building. ... We were trying to raise $100,000 for the Edgell Library window restoration. And we came in fourth place, and we got the funding and we got everybody in town voting.
When you first started 17 years ago, what was going on in your head at that point? What were some things you wanted to accomplish, and do you think you were able to get those things done?
I was hired because I was a development consultant and I was on the board (of directors). I knew the town had put out an RFP, a request for proposal, for the three buildings, Edgell Library, Village Hall and the (Old) Academy (Building). I also realized that, other than a third-grade program house tour, we weren't doing much programming. And I was like, 'Well this is crazy.' So I just totally beefed up the programming. And now we have fantastic programs at least once a month. And they're all homegrown. I'm very excited about that. ...I got here, and I got into this position and I thought, 'There's a feeling that this organization isn't fundable. In other words, that we can't go out and ask people for money to support the organization.' And I was like, 'Oh yes we can.' I remember raising $30,000 for one of our first big exhibits. I was out there to prove that we can raise money for this organization, and we'll keep doing it."
Do you know how much money you've raised in total?
If you look at our operating budget right now, it's about $350,000. It wasn't always that high. I've raised the operating budget for this organization for 17 years and I've also raised a lot of money for the buildings. I really can't say (a specific number). A lot.
How has the landscape for history centers changed since you've come on?
The fact that you didn't say 'historical society' shows how much things have changed, because when I first started, we were a historical society. And the impression of a historical society was very different from the impression of a history center. Early on, I was determined that we change our name from Framingham Historical Society to Framingham History Center because I felt it would be more welcoming. And it would appear less snooty. ... After we changed our name, a lot of historical societies changed their names, so the writing was on the wall. I think there is a lot more relevant programming to what is going on today at history centers. I think history centers are not so focused on their collections. ... I think that a lot of history centers are downsizing their collection and making sure what they have really tells the story of their town and of their mission.
What do you love about history?
I feel when you learn stories about what has gone on in your community, it connects you to that community. It's like a family telling their family lore to their children. Those stories connect you to your family. And I love this community, so I love opportunities to give people new information about how amazing the history of this place is because I think history is the bedrock of the culture of a place. The more people can connect to that, the more they appreciate where they live, the more they'll work for their community. That's what I love about history.
Why did you decide now was the time to retire?
I have four grandchildren and I just felt the staff was very strong, and this would be OK.
How old are your grandchildren?
I have a 4½-year-old, two 2½-year-olds, and one 10-month-old.
Is the plan to spend a lot of time with them? What's the plan after you're done at the history center?
I don't know. I'm just looking forward to doing nothing and being with grandchildren and my family. ... I know I'll still be active in Framingham or beyond. I don't know what it is going to look like, but I'm not someone who isn't going to be doing something in the community.
Cesareo Contreras can be reached at 508-626-3957 or email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @cesareo_r.
This article originally appeared on MetroWest Daily News: Framingham MA History Center Annie Murphy to retire in May