The Coastal Star

Delray Beach: Historical society hire looks back at history, forward to development

Frances Hansen is the new executive director of the Delray Beach Historical Society. Rich Pollack/The Coastal Star

Clarification: A story in the February edition incorrectly implied that new Delray Beach
Historical Society Executive Director Frances Hansen did not complete her
studies while in England. Hansen has a Masters degree in Egyptology/Classics
as well as bachelor's degrees in biogenetics and ancient history with a
minor in ancient art.

By Rich Pollack
    
If all had gone as planned, Frances Hansen would have completed her studies in Egyptology at Oxford and used her degree in biogenetics to extract DNA from mummies.
    But family issues and the unexpected twists and turns of life brought her back to the United States. Ultimately, she arrived in Florida where the daughter of an opera singer who performed with the Metropolitan Opera and an appellate judge being groomed for the Supreme Court, settled down with her British husband.
    Using her background and her love for history, Hansen worked as both a volunteer and a professional for the Palm Beach County Historical Society. She also took on the responsibility of building archives for a local family that traces its roots to America’s founders.
    Last month, Hansen began the latest chapter in her own history, taking on the role of executive director of the Delray Beach Historical Society.
    The newly recreated job — a position vacant for several years — comes with the responsibility of wearing many hats, with perhaps the biggest challenge being to revitalize the organization through increased community interaction and involvement.
    “This is going to be an exciting time for us,” said Jane Orthwein, historical society president. “Frances has a lot of great ideas and a lot of energy to implement them.”
    Already on Hansen’s “to do” list are plans to broaden community access to the society’s archives, carefully built and cared for by former archivist Dottie Patterson, who retired in December after more than two decades.
    Also on the agenda is a plan to increase programming to bring visitors to the historical society’s three key buildings, including the historic 1915 Cason Cottage Museum, the 1926 Florida Bungalow and the Ethel Sterling Williams Historical Learning Center.
    “The real mission of this organization is to protect and preserve the history of this wonderful seaside community and to find ways to breathe new life into it,” Hansen said. “The organization was created as a service to the community.”
    A lecture is already in the planning stages for March at the Cason Cottage, tied to a special exhibit about the Kennedys. Also in the works is a family event centered on the history of the barefoot mailmen that will be held in April as part of a joint effort with the Palm Beach Historical Society.
    Going forward, visitors can expect to see more special exhibits coming out of the wealth of information stored in the society’s archives.
    Hansen says she hopes to have themed events throughout the year and will be opening up the 1926 bungalow to community organizations for event rentals.
    “We’re a historical society,” Orthwein said, “but we also want to look toward the future.”
    Finding someone to help the society grow its membership and build on its existing strengths was a challenge for the organization, she said.
    “We were looking for someone to replace Dottie as our archivist and we also were hoping to find someone to help us administratively,” Orthwein said. “We had no idea we would find it all in one person.”
    Contacted about the job by Bob Ganger, a former historical society president also active in the county historical society, Hansen said she was impressed by board members and others she met before she started the new job.
    “This is a wonderful organization with a heart and soul,” she said.
    For her part, Orthwein said she was impressed with Hansen the first time they spoke.
    “The minute I met her, I knew she would be perfect for the job,” Orthwein said. “She has proven to be
unbelievable.”                           

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