Rob Lukens has recently taken the reins at Chester County Historical Society, and he has big plans
HAD YOU asked me a week ago to describe the president of the Chester County Historical Society, the picture I’d have painted for you wouldn’t remotely resemble Rob Lukens. He wouldn’t be young and fit. He wouldn’t be handsome with an authoritative and reassuring deep voice. He’d probably wear tweed suits and prefer Scotch to beer. The conversation would be stuffy and esoteric, and his game plan would focus on people who collect Word War II DVDs and claim to have enjoyed Ulysses. Fortunately for the historical society, and for West Chester, Rob doesn’t fit my ill-conceived mold.
Slightly timid at first, but only remotely camera shy, Rob ditched his daily suit in favor of a sweater and slacks for his interview. He was approachable and relaxed; the exemplar for a movement touting that history isn’t inherently pedantic. Considering the task he has ahead of him, we wanted to chat with Rob to see what we can expect from CCHS now that he’s taken the reins.
Name: Rob Lukens
Hometown: I was born and raised in Lansdowne, but for the better part of the last 20 years I have called West Chester home. I consider this my hometown.
Do you live here now? Now I’m living in Wilmington, but we’re planning on moving back. The beauty, quality of life, community and history of West Chester is unsurpassed. It becomes especially apparent when you move outside of Chester County.
Where were you before taking over at CCHS? I was working at the US Capitol Visitor Center in Washington, DC as the Exhibits and Education Director. When the center opened in 2008 they had no programming outside of tours. My task was to implement programming beyond the tour for the two million visitors we had each year.
What brought you into this field? My initial experience with museums was when I volunteered here [at CCHS] back in ’93. I was a student at Temple University beefing up my application for grad school because – at that time – I was determined to become a history professor. I worked a variety of other museum jobs while pursuing my Ph.D. at the University of Delaware, but my first full-time job after school was here as the Collections Manager, and I thoroughly fell in love with the job.
What convinced you to leave academia? The difference between academia and working in museums is that here you have direct access to the public. You can directly influence people.
You genuinely love the job. I do. I’m not just faking it.
Why is history important? History is pervasive in all that we do. It is my philosophy that understanding history helps you to be informed about what we’re doing today. It creates informed citizens who can better influence our society.
What are your goals as president? We have two key drives: 1. To be relevant. 2. To ensure long-term fiscal sustainability.
How do you intend to be relevant? We want to find out from the community how we can best serve them, to become an integral part of their lives.
How so? Well, our big initiative for 2012 is to bring in teachers from the school district to pilot programs in the schools. The goal is to match local history to the national standards that all teachers have to conform to. We want to help local history fit that curriculum.
Anything else? One of my pet projects for this year will be combining two of my great loves: history and beer. We want to bring programs into the restaurants and bars – the places where people are already hanging out and talking. I feel like we should be in those bars with a laid-back yet enlightening program. Have a speaker for 30 minutes then facilitate a conversation.