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Meet Kara Fossey of Fort Devens Museum in Central Massachusetts

Today we’d like to introduce you to Kara Fossey.

So, before we jump into specific questions about the business, why don’t you give us some details about you and your story.
Fun fact: when I graduated high school, I couldn’t tell you which years the American Civil War had taken place. I mostly figured it didn’t matter. After all, it’s not like I was interested in history.

At the same time, ask me about my favorite hobby and I’d tell you “visiting historic houses”. In fact, if you look back at my college freshman entrance essay I declared how much I loved “digging” in my grandparents’ attic for “old stuff.” And, if I could somehow make a career out of that, well okay, sign me up!

It turns out, my interest WAS in history and I just didn’t know it. At no fault of their own, history teachers in middle and high school are assigned the unfortunate task of teaching-almost literally-a zillion years of people, places, and events in an already cramped school year. With little flexibility, history is often taught as a strict timeline of whatever has long been deemed the most notable happenings.

Luckily, there’s life after 11th grade US History! I was fortunate enough to attend Wheaton College (MA) where classes were generally small and professors were engaged. I found myself drawn to social history: the why and how, which I saw as more complex and intriguing than whom and what. Going to graduate school for Museum Studies provided practical principles for administrating or supporting any cultural organization focused on educating through collections.

I’ve now served as the Executive Director at the Fort Devens Museum for ten years and it’s easy to be invested in a job that gives so much back. We meet so many people over the course of a year: some who inspire us, some who challenge us, and some who change the way we look at the work we do. One recent visitor, who drove up to Devens from Georgia, had one goal in mind: to find the grave of the father she never knew. After locating the stone bearing his name, she sent us a note: “Thank you for watching over him.” And that is the summation of our work at the museum: watching over the men and women who trained, lived, and worked at Camp and Fort Devens, telling their stories, and honoring their memories so that we all remember how we got where we are today.

We’re always bombarded by how great it is to pursue your passion, etc – but we’ve spoken with enough people to know that it’s not always easy. Overall, would you say things have been easy for you?
While I was thrilled to immerse myself in my new job I had a nagging concern that I was possibly massively out of my element. Not only had I, myself, never served in the military, I didn’t have immediate family or friends who did either. I wondered how effective of a Director I could be when I’m in the office furtively flipping through my “Soldier Talk” dictionary trying to understand the difference between C-rations and K-rations, and what in the world ‘theaters’ had to do with World War II. Luckily, our visitors teach us just as much as we teach them. This give and take strengthens our story, our mission, and our community.

As the museum has grown (and has it!), brand new challenges have inevitably presented themselves. As with many small non-profits, there is a tendency to take on too much, to try to do it all. “You can do anything, but not everything” has become an essential daily reminder. It’s so tempting to cram as many programs and events in as we can; to spend hours on each research inquiry; to say ‘yes’ to everything. But sometimes we need to take a step back and remember that time and resources are finite and we are more effective and productive when we’re not spread so thin that we’re starting to tear.

So, as you know, we’re impressed with Fort Devens Museum – tell our readers more, for example what you’re most proud of as a company and what sets you apart from others.
We are stewards: maintaining historic photographs, documents, and artifacts. We are educators: teaching through our collections. We are facilitators: connecting people and community. We are advocates: promoting Veteran and citizen recognition. We are storytellers: speaking for those no longer with us.

The Fort Devens Museum is a private non-profit organization that collects, preserves, and shares artifacts and stories that tell the history of Camp Devens and Fort Devens from 1917 to the present. Once known as “New England’s largest Army Base”, Fort Devens now has 100 years of history under its belt.

I am a huge believer that we exist not only as a venue that presents a visual timeline of the history of Camp and Fort Devens. But, perhaps more importantly, we offer a warm, welcoming place for Veterans and their families to gather, remember, and share the stories that are most important to them.

Over the last century, more than million men, women, and children have passed through Fort Devens. They trained, lived, and worked here and left their indelible marks up and down these streets. In every well-worn uniform, in every creased letter home, and in every faded photograph is a story that we ensure will never be forgotten.

By far, the best part of the job here is spending time with visitors. They come from every state and from overseas. They all have different connections to Fort Devens and the memories shared are amazing in their diversity. And when we’re lucky, they tell us the kinds of stories that stay with us long after they’ve walked out the door.

I routinely talk about one such visitor, Wesley B. Crooker. Although he lived locally, until he visited us a few years ago, he had not been back to Fort Devens since he was discharged with the 150th Combat Engineers after World War II.

He spoke thoughtfully and quietly and honestly about his experience in the Army: that he was drafted, homesick, and didn’t want to fight. But, like so many in his generation, he went ahead-with a courage most of us can’t likely understand-to Europe to stand up for his country.

While he may have spent over 65 years away from the memories that Fort Devens held for him, he finally chose to come back. He found, on display in the museum, a uniform of one of his fellow soldiers from Company B; and, he carefully paged through a brittle 150th Engineers photo album, studying every photograph.

And an interesting thing happened after that visit. He came back again. And then again, I hope the memories he ended up finding here were a joy and a comfort.

Thanks to his family for introducing us, and thank you to Wes for making a lasting impression.

So, what’s next? Any big plans?
The world: it’s our oyster!

The Fort Devens Museum is 18 years old which means that I’ve had the pleasure of guiding it through more than half its life. And now it’s officially an adult!

Pricing:

  • Free Admission
  • Donations Appreciated

Contact Info:

Image Credit:
Fort Devens Museum

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