Leaders at the Helm
Three women steer the N.C. Maritime Museum
The North Carolina Maritime Museum at Southport is managed by three — and only three — all-female leaders. LORI SANDERLIN (pictured left) has been at the museum since 2011 and became the museum manager in January 2018. KATY MENNE (pictured right), curator of education, started in May 2018 and KRISTAN PHILLIPS (pictured center) is the visitor services coordinator since 2017.
With these three ladies at the helm and many volunteers on board, the museum is a thriving part of the community.
Prior to Southport, Sanderlin managed program registrations and coordinated volunteers and special events at the North Carolina Maritime Museum in Beaufort. She credits each of her prior jobs for giving her the tools needed to carry out the mission to collect, preserve, and interpret the maritime history of the Lower Cape Fear region.
Sanderlin recalls, “Whether it was at the University of North Carolina at Wilmington or State University of New York Maritime College for my master’s degree, or helping volunteers and colleagues in Beaufort, it all contributed.”
It was completing her executive certificate in nonprofit management from Duke that she says, “had tremendous impact on the direction I wanted to take the museum.”
Since becoming the manager, Sanderlin has collaborated on long-range plans with Beaufort museum staff and the Friends of the North Carolina Maritime Museum, a volunteer support group.
Sanderlin has updated the Civil War, colonial and the Age of Sail exhibits while reorganizing the museum’s flow into chronological order. She is also responsible for grassroots fundraising and writing grants for exhibits.
Sanderlin touts the Friends as the museum’s lifeblood.
“We cannot sail this ship without our volunteers. They are a treasure beyond words,” Sanderlin says.
The Friends dedicate countless hours to fundraising for museum expansion. Friends also paint, clean, maintain the building, and pay utilities.
With Menne and Phillips as part of the crew, Sanderlin says, “We work as a team to create new concepts and expand education. We are constantly thinking of what to do next! Every day is a new day. Repetition is an oddity.”
In Menne’s role as curator of education, she teaches maritime history and culture to all ages. She’s added interactive Sensory Saturday, a calm judgment free zone, and Homeschool Friday programs. She started a social media presence on Instagram, LinkedIn, and YouTube, and grew existing Facebook and Twitter followers. Menne also developed new collaborative partnerships with the North Carolina Aquariums and the Coast Guard.
Menne’s passion for special needs populations drove her to join the Brunswick County Local Interagency Coordinating Council.
“Realizing our community had a major need for entities that welcomed all people, I started looking for what else we could offer,” Menne says. “We are now the first certified autism center in North Carolina.”
Menne holds a bachelor’s degree in history and a master’s in teaching secondary social studies, both from the University of South Carolina. Growing up all over the U.S. and living abroad for two years at age eight, Menne says living in Southport is special and working in a museum is unique.
“The community has been so welcoming to me and to my ideas,” Menne says. “I’ll get a wild hair and they will run with it. They trust that I will do right by this community.”
While Phillips’s title is visitor services coordinator, she wears many hats.
“I manage the front desk, assist visitors with questions, explain local history, register program attendees, run the gift shop and coordinate over 60 volunteers,” Phillips says. “I really do whatever is needed to keep the museum operating.”
Phillips’s prior jobs prepared her for the museum role. She worked with at-risk middle school students in New Hanover County schools. She was a library assistant in most of the public libraries in New Hanover County, worked at Brunswick Town/Fort Anderson State Historic Site and was operations manager at the Lower Cape Fear Historical Society at the Latimer House.
“I love the analytics involved in running a store and museum operations,” Phillips says. “I’ve learned about human behavior. I’m surrounded with history. It never gets boring.”
About women running the museum, Sanderlin says, “For many years, the museum field was dominated by men. I have seen a growing trend in the last twenty years. Women are stepping into these roles, especially fields that interpret the American Civil War, and maritime, naval, and museum studies. Our female staff provides a unique perspective, not only as women, but because our areas of research are quite different.”
All three ladies agree that the museum is a hidden gem.
Even while temporarily closed to the public, the museum is offering virtual learning kits as learning moves beyond the museum walls. Summer in a Seabag is virtual summer camp for kids at home.
“It is all about the experience – learning about maritime culture, cooking, heroes, and heroines who thought they were just ordinary people, but did amazing things,” Sanderlin says. “Learning local history will make you love your coastal home even more.”
To view more of photographer John Muuss’s work, click here.
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