For Stefanie Basalik, laying her hands on historical artifacts is often an emotional experience. The items she touched while working at Gettysburg National Military Park conjured up images of soldiers trudging through miles of battlefield, clinging to a piece of home.
At the Eisenhower National Historic Site in Adams County, Pennsylvania, Basalik handled the plates on which the 34th president ate his breakfast each morning and the phone he used when there was an emergency in Washington, D.C.
“Being able to hold something like that really inspires me,” she said. “It gives me a real humbleness, the fact that I get to display and preserve that artifact.”
Basalik, a career preservationist and the recent leader of the Washington County Historical Society, now brings that experience to Frederick County as the new executive director of Heritage Frederick. The nonprofit, also known as the Historical Society of Frederick County, announced Basalik’s appointment in March.
Working in historical preservation and education for over a decade, Basalik said she’s honored to take the helm of the group.
“I’m really excited about the position,” she told the News-Post. “The organization has a lot of great ideas, and we see a lot of potential moving forward.”
Heritage Frederick runs the Museum of Frederick County History on Church Street and manages the county’s Archives and Research Center. In her new role, Basalik said she hopes to channel her passion for history into meaningful connections with county residents.
Now, working as an administrator rather than a curator, Basalik admitted with a laugh that she doesn’t “get to touch the stuff anymore.” But she’s excited about the prospect of leading the nonprofit in a more hands-off way, too.
Basalik said the group’s mission — like any regional historical society — is not just to preserve and display the past, but to document the present. That means staying in touch with the community, she said, and collecting stories that accurately portray the diversity of cultures and experiences in Frederick County.
“It’s our responsibility to make sure that we are reaching out to people,” she said. “We don’t want to save history that’s not reflective of the people that live here.”
This week, the museum will debut a new exhibit highlighting the “continual mosaic of people” who have made their homes in the region, according to its website — from indigenous people to colonial settlers to modern-day immigrants.
Basalik said Heritage Frederick interviewed 17 current county residents who migrated here from around the world, compiling an oral history to round out the exhibition.
Those 17 people will be the first to visit the exhibit in person, Basalik said. Come May, the museum will hold a “soft opening,” offering timed appointments for visitors.
Basalik is eager to engage with the wider public more freely once the coronavirus pandemic eases up. She hopes to organize family programming in the museum’s gardens and invite larger groups of residents to tour its collections.
“We’re excited to open back up again after COVID,” she said, “and to really see Frederick back in our building.”
Basalik earned her Ph.D. in American Studies, Interdisciplinary History and Public Heritage and Museum Studies from Penn State University, according to Heritage Frederick officials. She had previously studied at James Madison University and Bridgewater College.
In addition to her time in Washington County, Gettysburg and at the Eisenhower National Historic Site, Basalik has worked with the National Parks Service and the U.S. Department of the Interior. She has contributed to exhibitions for the National Archives and the Smithsonian Institution, and her years of teaching experience include adjunct appointments at Frederick and Carroll community colleges.
Basalik’s hiring comes after Mary Rose Boswell, who served as Heritage Frederick’s leader for more than six years, stepped down last October.