Christine Turner has, in her own words, “moved around a lot,” both within the United States and overseas
Now she’s happy to be home.
Wanting her son and child-to-be to be close to their grandparents, Turner and her husband have at least temporarily moved back to her parents’ farm until the couple can refurbish their house in upstate New York and put it on the market. Then they’ll look for their own home locally.
“My mom is having fun watching my son during the day,” she laughed.
Turner lived in Harrisburg until the sixth grade, at which point her family relocated not far away—to Millerstown in Perry County.
But she also had a professional reason to come back to the area. She is the newly appointed executive director of the Historical Society of Dauphin County.
The society’s portfolio is large: an unmatched county archives, a lecture series, historic exhibits and a few good parties every year. But it’s probably best known as the keeper of the John Harris/Simon Cameron Mansion Museum.
As executive director, Turner is responsible for all operations, including fundraising, programming, finance and facilities management. She also oversees the administration of the mansion, a National Historic Landmark, and the Alexander Family Research Library.
Before beginning at the historical society, she had a varied career.
Perhaps most colorfully, she was one of the few women to be an assistant manager of a Major League Baseball team. But it was something she had always wanted to do.
“I started by working for the Harrisburg Senators after high school,” Turner said. “And I interned with them between my college years. I was lucky enough to work for the Cincinnati Reds.”
A Red Sox fan, Turner was associated with Major and Minor League teams in Cincinnati, Savannah and Troy, N.Y. In 2009-10, she served as assistant general manager and Major League Baseball consultant for the Victoria Aces in Melbourne, Australia.
Another love of hers is history. It’s what she majored in at Beloit College (graduating with honors) and what she’s glad to be immersed in now at HSDC.
What has been the biggest surprise of her new position?
“I’m amazed at the number of people who come in every day, researching their family or some piece of Harrisburg history,” she said.
Immediately before coming to the historical society, Turner was director of corporate relations and events for Ronald McDonald House Charities of the Capital Region in Albany, N.Y. She was responsible for overseeing and executing nearly 60 events and appeals, raising more than $2.2 million annually for the charities. She also raised $2.4 million for a Ronald McDonald House expansion campaign.
“The first thing we needed in choosing an executive director was a person who could do and has done fundraising,” said John Robinson, a board member of the historical society and its immediate past president. “It’s such an important need.”
Fundraising helps maintain the mansion, the library and archives.
But it isn’t just about money, Robinson added.
“We need to expand our reach for new audiences, especially involving children and young adults,” he said. “Christine has worked with many age groups. We believe she has the vision and foresight to imagine how the historical society can be.”
Turner’s long-term goal is to increase and diversify the number of events HSDC sponsors. Again, drawing on her experience at the Ronald McDonald House, Turner said, “It was very event-heavy there, not just an annual gala.”
She’s “still putting things on paper,” to see what types of events she believes will work here and have not been “overdone” in the area. “Nothing is set in stone yet,” she said.
Another major goal is to increase the number of people who donate to HSDC.
“Financing is our greatest challenge,” said Turner. “We aim to broaden the base of those supporting us. There are many nonprofits here, and history is a harder sell. We have to come up with new and creative ways.”
HSDC is supported by grants from the county and state, but much of its funding comes from foundations and individual donors.
Turner is hoping that the popularity of websites like ancestry.com will inspire more interest in the historical society.
Back in the area that was once and now is again home, Turner is catching up on relearning it.
“It’s changed,” she said of Harrisburg and its environs. “There are more restaurants and breweries. There’s a lot going on. There are more festivals and events.”
Besides going back and forth between Perry County and New York to work on their house, Turner and her husband enjoy different kinds of travel, like hiking and kayaking. In January, they’ll be visiting Italy, full of historic sights, where her husband lived for a while but that is new to her.
But it’s also exciting to preserve the history of the area closer to home.
The Historical Society of Dauphin County is located at the rear of The John Harris-Simon Cameron Mansion, 219 S. Front St., Harrisburg. For more information, visit www.dauphincountyhistory.org.
Author: Barbara Trainin Blank