Museum president moves on

Rodgers sees challenges ahead, says it’s time for some new blood

By Rachael Scarborough King / The Bulletin
Published: July 13. 2007 5:00AM PST

High Desert Museum President Forrest Rodgers announced his resignation Thursday after six years on the job.

Rodgers will continue in the position until Oct. 1, according to a news release from the High Desert Museum. He could leave earlier if the museum chooses a successor or he takes a new job.

Reached by phone, Rodgers said he thinks it’s time for some new blood at the top.

“I really believe that the time is right for somebody else to take the lead,” he said. “For me personally, it’s time to renew myself, re-energize myself and look for new ways to put my talents to work.”

Rodgers pointed to a recent rise in paid attendance after 12 years of declines, the hiring of more staff and a focus on more varied visitor programming as some of the major achievements during his tenure. In that time, the museum also finished a $23.5 million expansion and reduced its long-term debt from $3.3 million to $1.5 million, the release said.

The museum – which opened in 1982 and features historical displays as well as live-animal exhibits – counted about 82,000 paid admissions last year. Sitting on 135 acres south of Bend, it’s considered a key attraction in Central Oregon for locals and visitors.

“This is a very important treasure for our community and it’s an essential resource, and over seven years we’ve made a lot of accomplishments,” Rodgers said.

After 20 years working in higher education, Rodgers, 55, became the museum’s vice president for development and affairs in February 2000 and was promoted to president in July 2001, the release said.

Rodgers said that his duties as president include fundraising and “lead(ing) the museum’s strategic vision and day-to-day operating performance.”

Both he and Cathy Carroll, the museum’s communications and promotions manager, said that one of the new president’s main responsibilities will be increasing the size of the endowment, which is currently at about $1.5 million. The museum relies entirely on admissions and donations for its operating funds, Carroll and Rodgers said.

“I will say that, in spite of all of our successes of the last seven years, the museum still is underfunded, underendowed and understaffed, and that can wear down the creative juices and the energy of anybody and, yes, I have felt the strain of the museum’s financial circumstances for a long time,” Rodgers said. “That’s why I believe that new leadership energy is really essential at this particular time.”

In April 2006, the museum’s vice president of finance, the director of development and a planning manager announced their resignations and departed within two weeks of one another, citing personal reasons, according to earlier Bulletin reports. One of the employees said at the time that their resignations were unrelated to the museum’s financial challenges.

Carroll said the museum will start working with an executive search firm, which has offered to work for free, to conduct a national search for a new president. That process will begin “as quickly as possible,” she said.

As a leader, Rodgers has proven to be approachable as well as adept at seeing the big picture of the museum’s mission, Carroll said.

“I think (Rodgers’ accomplishments have been) the reinvention of the museum experience, the wisdom to see that the museum needs to constantly change and always offer a new experience, and he was able to do that along with staff and the board of trustees in offering new and exciting programs that have been proven to be popular with the community,” she said.

Rodgers, who lives with his wife and three daughters in Bend, is not sure what he’ll do next. Between now and October, he will focus on a 25th anniversary initiative that the museum plans to launch in the fall.

“I love the museum as a place – it is both beautiful and calming and, at the same time, it’s energized by visitors and staff,” he said. “Many people don’t realize that the museum started from very modest beginnings, thanks to generous donors, and it has become a nationally regarded museum with an international reputation, and it will be important for this community to help support the museum as it grows and develops.”

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