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Twain House Leader Leaving

Director Calls End To 16-Year Tenure

November 18, 2005
By JEFFREY B. COHEN, Courant Staff Writer

John Boyer and his wife long joked that after he cut the ribbon for a recent expansion at The Mark Twain House & Museum, she'd be waiting in the parking lot with the engine running and a U-Haul.

The ribbon cutting was two years ago, and - until now - the post-opening excitement has been enough to keep Boyer in his job as the center's executive director. But in about two weeks, Boyer is officially stepping down at the Hartford museum's annual meeting on Nov. 29 - the eve of Twain's birthday.

"My departure frankly signals nothing more than I'm really ready to find the next thing," said Boyer, who spent 16 years at the house - just one fewer than Twain, who lived there from 1874 to 1891. "The institution will not miss a beat, the staff is very strong."

"I never expected to be a museum director, so I have no idea what I'll be doing next," he said. "I do know this much - there's some weight loss involved. But that's all I know at this time."

Boyer, 52, will be replaced by Deputy Director Debra Petke, who has worked at the museum for 12 years.

Dede DeRosa, the board's next president, says that she and the board "have an enormous amount of confidence in Debra. She's been there 12 years, she knows the ropes."

"Obviously, people are going to miss John and miss his leadership," DeRosa said. "But I think he's feeling pretty good that the time is right to move on personally. And I think the rest of us are feeling, well, it's OK. Things will work fine with Debra in that role."

During Boyer's tenure, the institution has grown greatly.

The house has been restored and new rooms have been opened to the public for the first time; the museum has added new properties, including the 34,000-square- foot Museum Center designed by noted architect Robert A. M. Stern. It has also expanded its educational resources, from teacher training programs to annual lecture series.

"It's been a transformation from the historic home to a nationally recognized institution with a very important educational program," said Michael Dury, the president of the center's board of trustees.

"I question whether we would have gotten here from there absent John," he said. "Twain's work today still is alive and being used to make a difference in people's lives. That all comes on the vision and the spirit and the inspiration of John."

The positive reviews aren't limited to those who worked with him at the museum.

"The place has really been transformed in the course of his 16 years there," said David M. Kahn, executive director at The Connecticut Historical Society Museum. "He's been a star in the museum world here in Hartford, and we all owe him a tremendous amount of gratitude."

Boyer's decision came to a head last weekend at the center's holiday gala, marking the second anniversary of the expansion's opening, he said. That got him thinking.

More Twain house restoration will be completed at the end of the calendar year. The board will soon have a new president. His oldest son is off to college, his youngest son is in high school.

"This was really the right time for me to start thinking about the next thing," he said. "I've had wonderful invitations to do things, and I've said `no.' I've said `no' for all the right reasons. And now I get to think about that in a different way."

"I believe guys like me in the end do their jobs the best when they're invisible," he said. "What people should really remember in the end is Twain. ... If that's what people remember about this period, then I'm happy."

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
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