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10 Plus with John Warner of the Wright Museum

Kathi Caldwell-Hopper - July 8, 2013

John Warner

John Warner is interim executive director of the Wright Museum in Wolfeboro.

Overseeing the operation of a busy museum is a big job. Overseeing the Wright Museum in Wolfeboro is an even bigger job because it involves caring for a vast collection of World War II items. Visitors often donate old letters, maps, photos, and other memorabilia of the war years that once belonged to a family member. It takes sensitivity to care for the collection and to recognize the immense service World War II veterans gave to our country. John Warner, interim executive director of the Wright Museum, located at 77 Center Street in Wolfeboro, does all that and more on a daily basis. With a full-time staff of three and about 35 to 40 volunteers, his job requires that he juggle many things. He stresses that those who wish to donate World War II-related items to the museum should contact Michelle Landry, the collections manager at the Wright Museum, at 603-569-1212.


1. How long have you lived in NH and what brought you here?

“I lived here from ages 12 to 23 and then spent 27 years in banking. I worked in a small-town community bank in Illinois. It was a little farm town and I loved the small town and working in a community bank where everyone knew everyone else.”

2. What is your background? Have you been in the museum industry in the past?

“Not exactly! My mother was a big believer in the arts and she ran a fine arts center when I was a child and into my early adulthood. I have lots of experience working with non-profits and organizations that are trying to do things on behalf of a community.”

3. How did you get interested in history and museums?

“I have a long-time friend that was involved with the Wright Museum and serving on the board of directors. (My friend and I have a mutual interest in antique cars.) He saw that I was interested in the Wright Museum and, seven years ago, I went on the board. As we went through the change of executive directors and began the search process for a new director, the board felt the Wright Museum needed someone to attend to things in the meantime. I said I would do it. I have a love of history and I am interested in all sorts of people. I also have a desire to see the Wright Museum be a success. I like the people who come to the museum. This is my second year serving as interim executive director. We are expecting to make a big announcement to name a new director soon, probably in September.”

4. Can you describe your job at the Wright Museum, because our readers may not know what it takes to run such a large museum with a huge and varied collection?

“My job is community relations, fundraising, and leading and inspiring the staff. To a certain extent, I am involved in the scheduling of exhibits, prep and installation of exhibits, scheduling of speakers at events, and the introduction of speakers. It is my job to be the public face of the museum. That enhances our fundraising potential.”

5. How will you be involved in the museum once a new executive director is appointed?

“I am going to stay involved and help the new director be a success. The job has given me insights into the Wright Museum that I did not have before. I will stay on the board of directors. (We have 12 board members.)”

6. What are the challenges of working for an organization that is so specific to a certain time period (World War II) and must depend upon volunteers for donations and to work at the museum?

“The challenge is getting the word out. It is a high-quality museum, on a national standard in terms of the presentation and collection. It is known in the Lakes Region, but we need to work on spreading awareness of the Wright Museum beyond this area. It is a challenge reaching the younger generation because kids tend to think of World War II as ancient history! We are trying to let young people know that the character traits of the World War II generation are things younger people today need to know about as well. In the winter we get lots of school groups; two to three days a week we have groups here. The school groups come from beyond the Lakes Region too, from all over New Hampshire, Massachusetts, and Vermont. Academically, we have been discovered!”

7. Are you busy in the summer, and what sort of people come to the Wright Museum?

“We tend to have a generation that is interested in the museum because they have a family member having been in the service. It is quite common to hear visitors say they have a relative that served in World War II. Then we have a group of people who are currently in the service — they have a sense of military service and the greater purposes of World War II. Then we have parents with young kids and they want to introduce their children to World War II history.”

8. Where do you think the Lakes Region will be in the future, say, 10 years from now?

“I think the Lakes Region has been discovered! It is no longer a resort area known only in New England. It is comparable to Miami or Boca Raton and it is known all across the country. I think the Lakes Region will continue to develop economically.”

9. What do you do in your free time to unwind?

“I own an old garage in Melvin Village and I restore antique cars as a hobby. It is called the Old Melvin Garage. There is lots of antique car interest in the Melvin Village area. I welcome people to stop by and look at the cars.”

10. What do you like about the Lakes Region and what keeps you here?

“I like the attitude of the people — the traditional New Hampshire Live Free or Die mindset. And I like the notion of having the freedom to do what you want. I enjoy the neighborliness and willingness of others to let you have your space and do what you want to do.”

11. Is there anything new planned at the Wright Museum this summer and fall?

“We will be putting on our first-ever antique car exhibit on Aug. 24 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Visitors can tour the museum (for the normal museum price) and take in the show of really lovely, remarkable antique cars as well.”

12. Why do you think the Lakes Region remains so very popular?

“It’s the quality of life. The area has just lovely surroundings and fun things to see and do. It is still a slice of picturesque, old-time New England.”

13. What is the history of the museum? How did it begin, who started it, when and how have the goals changed over time?

“The Wright Museum was started about 15 years ago by David Wright. He was a Marine Corps vet and businessman. He named the museum after his father, a World War II veteran. The museum is an attempt to tell both sides of the World War II story — the home front and battlefront. It was David’s desire to collect and share the stories. He hoped that people would be inspired by what they see at the Wright Museum. He wanted to speak to younger generations about honor, integrity, and watching out for neighbors, character traits of the World War II generation. Those are still our goals today.”

14. What do you think Mr. Wright would say if he could see the museum today?

“He passed away about eight years ago. I think he would be very pleased with the Wright Museum. It has grown and taken on new directions that he dreamed of but did not live to see. It is of a museum quality that hits a national standard. The museum started in Massachusetts. David and his family summered in Wolfeboro and, as he got closer to retirement, he made the decision to relocate the museum to Wolfeboro.”

15. What plans are in your future?

“To stay in the Lakes Region and continue to be involved in the Wright Museum and have fun with antique cars!”

16. And finally, we have to ask about the iconic image of the Wright Museum, the tank that is placed to look as if it is breaking through the exterior of the Wright Museum. That is quite a sight!

“It is a Stuart Light Tank and it was used early in the war — 1942-43, but was quickly outdated and surpassed by heavier equipment. The tank still runs and operates. It was David’s idea of having it breaking through the wall. He felt the image would grab people as they drove by.” 

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