One of Us

Kathy Fleming

Posted

Can you please briefly tell us about your background?

Being a museum director was all I ever really wanted to do. After graduation from Wake Forest University, I worked in a Southern art museum coordinating public relations and doing educational tours. I also studied professional advertising with the man who did the first Pepsi jingles coming out of the Carolinas. Later I studied organizational leadership at Gonzaga University. 

I became a museum director first in 1989, at a historical society in New York state. It needed a turnaround. Teamwork was critical. We were successful because of a partnership with a fantastic group of trustees, staffers and volunteers. Three years later, I moved to Florida to marry my husband of 30 years, Andy. I did a stint working for Easter Seals as their development director, helping folks with disabilities. Then I took the job at St. Augustine Lighthouse, which was then called the Lighthouse Museum of St. Augustine. Andy’s granddad worked on lighthouses in the Bahamas, so it was a way to combine family history with a passion for my industry, museums. I started working for the Junior Service League of St. Augustine in December 1994. In 1999 we separately incorporated as the museum you know today, now known as St. Augustine Lighthouse & Maritime Museum, Inc. I work for them today. We were accredited a couple of years ago by the AAM. I could not ask for a better group of folks with whom to work.

What do you enjoy most about your role?

 Honestly, problem-solving and the discovery of new stories of the past. 

What are some of the challenges that your industry/company is facing?

 Well, COVID-19, coupled with complexity and technology, is a challenge. As with all nonprofits, we have a double bottom line, which is messy enough, but COVID brought immense change and loss of revenue. Diving on shipwrecks with our archaeology team is on hold. Preservation projects may have to wait. We had to redesign or reimagine events, student programs, camps, memberships and field schools. But we still want to give back. Today, we feed the needy via a partnership with Farm Share. Many local businesses help. Belk’s Department Stores, Sunbelt Rentals, Wilson Heating and Air and the Lincolnville Cultural Center and Museum deserve our thanks for in-kind support. A whopping 60% of the last group we served had veterans in their family, and many were seniors or had lost a job because of COVID. Feeding the community hearkens back to what lighthouse keepers used to do when keeping the port open for local farmers. We don’t make money at it, at all — zero. It just helps the community because they need it.

Back onsite, we work to save and share the stories of local veterans. We study how wild-caught shrimp and how local families changed the world’s foodways. We investigate how lighthouse keepers faced political and social changes or how re-discovered shipwrecks met their end. We preserve thousands of artifacts of us and others. We need healthy tourism and personal donations and memberships to continue. There are many pieces of a complicated puzzle.  

What are your primary roles/responsibilities?

 I’m the executive director at the St. Augustine Lighthouse & Maritime Museum and at the Lighthouse Archaeological Maritime Program (LAMP). I implement the board of director’s policy and vision. I help them grow support for the museum via fundraising and community engagement. We align in one direction under a strategic plan. I try to do it all, but honestly, no one person can. It takes a team. We have a remarkable one led by board chair Capt. Bob Buehn, U.S. Navy (retired). I’m not the most important person; the team matters more.

What do you enjoy most about living in the North Florida area?

 I really love this region’s people. They are spirited and smart. The people that I work with make this community for me from the St. Johns County Chamber of Commerce to the volunteers at the museum to our remarkable board of trustees, and our fabulous staff. There are just a lot of brilliant minds and friendly people, working hard.

What do you hope people learn as they visit the lighthouse?

 Well, the lighthouse itself is beautiful and historic. But, there is so much more. I hope they spend time exploring a shipwreck from the end of the American Revolution in the keepers’ house and then see the WWII exhibit about our coast and the Battle of the Atlantic in 1942. I want them to know we aren’t alone in experiencing a time of struggle. I hope families can take from every tour or program, even the ghost stories, some heritage and knowledge about hard work and hope. I hope families leave with a feeling that they are personally connected to our stories and the sea. And I hope they can relax and have fun.

What do you like to do in your free time?

Well, I’m not only mom to Phoebe, Jack and Zeke, but I have two loving doggies named Dougal MacDougal and Belle. I spend time with all of them and Andy. We cook, travel and enjoy many dear friends.  

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