When Bernice Jones asked Jan Norman to be the executive director of Har-Ber Village back in 1998, she said if it would be for six months.
Bernice Jones, (which is the ‘Ber' in Har-Ber Village, along with her husband, Harvey) certainly had faith that Norman could handle what was ahead the job for a few months.
For more than 13 years now, Norman has been the chief overseer of the village.
Norman's plans to retire were formally announced at a reception held for supporters of Har-Ber Village last weekend.
Village employees presented the background history of a few of the unique antiques, and a vision of future projects for the village was outlined. Board chairman, Pete Churchwell shared the status of the board's search for a new director and also updated supporters on the challenges and opportunities facing the village.
"We need to expand our relevance to the entire community," Churchwell said.
"We want to remember the past, and imagine the future," he said.
The biggest challenge Norman has faced during her tenure as director taking inventory of the massive collection of antique that exist in the village. Har-Ber Village consists of more than 100 buildings, many of them log structures, full of thousands and thousands of antiques.
"We had to integrate the inventory with a software program and with the help of student at NSU (Northeastern State University) in Tahlequah, we were able to get it done," Norman said, although the project is an ongoing one.
Some of the projects completed since Norman became director include the outdoor Ecology Center; the Visitor Center, complete with gift shop, conference room, multimedia room, library, museum and multi-purpose room; GRDA exhibit; a nature trail; additions to the Native American exhibit; the barb wire exhibit, and the Halterman train exhibit, to name a few.
While the future of the village will be at the hands of a new executive director, currently being sought by the board of directors, Norman says the fate of museums around the country will depend on the support of their local communities.
"According to a poll conducted by the American Museum Association, most people believe that museums are an important part of teaching their children," Norman said. "So, it behooves us to make sure we are there for them."
Many museums, however, are looking for the new ways to engage the public, especially young people, she says. Visitors are demanding a more interactive experience and Har-Ber Village is looking at ways to fill that need in the future.
While the village is now the largest outdoor antique museum in the country, there was no master plan as it started out as a vacation spot for the Jones' on Grand Lake. Harvey Jones loved the lake and fishing, Norman said. His wife did not share his hobby, but accompanied her husband every weekend to the lake.
"If you are going to make me come here every weekend," Norman recalls the words Bernice told her husband, "then you need to build me a church so I can worship." After the church came the parsonage, and then a schoolhouse. One thing led to another and the rest is history, literally.
"What a delight she was, I never met anyone so charitable, her and Harvey both," Norman said.
Norman, who currently lives at the village, says she will be relocating after her retirement, she is just not sure yet if her and her husband will be moving to her home state of Texas or back to Tulsa, where she lived and worked for many years.
"I'm leaving by watching your progress and your programs," Norman said.
"I remember the words of Mrs. Jones, Dare to dream bro, dare to dream."
The board hopes to have the new director identified by the end of the year, Churchwell said.