New hires at CFHS bring burst of enthusiasm

“Oh Ship!” is emblazoned on t-shirts for the nautically-themed Milton Historical Society – and also represented the published reaction on the society’s Facebook page to the departure of its director.

New hires at the Chadds Ford Historical Society are looking forward to Chadds Ford Days and the Great Pumpkin Carve.

New hires at the Chadds Ford Historical Society are looking forward to Chadds Ford Days and the Great Pumpkin Carve.

But Delaware’s loss was Delaware County’s gain since Allison Schell resigned to accept the position of program and development manager at the Chadds Ford Historical Society (CFHS), according to Nadia Barakat, CFHS’s executive director.

Schell, a 26-year-old history buff, started at CFHS last week. She will be responsible for all the education programs of the society as well as the development of new programs to increase the nonprofit’s engagement with residents, businesses, schools and other groups within the Chadds Ford community, said Barakat.

In addition to Barakat, Schell joined Derek Larson, who started as office manager in April.

“It’s so exciting; it’s like an idea factory in here,” said Barakat, describing an atmosphere of blissful brainstorming. “Both of them have such creative energy and enthusiasm.”

For Schell, the job offers an opportunity to blend two of her passions: history and art. “I really love being creative, and I love finding ways to make history engaging and fun,” she said.

Schell, who grew up in the Allentown-Bethlehem area, earned a master’s degree in Museum Studies from George Washington University. She received an undergraduate degree in American history with a minor in art history from Dickinson College.

The Revolutionary War period represents her favorite segment of American history, she said, so the opportunity to promote it in an area where it happened really appealed to her.

She said she could trace her fascination with history to her first trip to Williamsburg, Va., at the age of 6 or 7. She recalled enjoying her interactions with the period characters and visiting one house where she was even given some chores. “Obviously, that really stuck with me,” she said.

Her interests were reinforced by her father, a middle-school history teacher who specialized in creating immersive experiences for his students. By the age of 15, Schell was volunteering at a living history museum. She said her father, who’s now retired, just donated two boxes overflowing with educational materials to CFHS.

Although Larson, 31, took a dramatically different path to CFHS, he espouses many of Schell’s sentiments about the importance of preserving history. And to underscore their similar perspectives, they share the same birthday.

Larson grew up in Montana and wanted a different cultural experience in college so he headed east, attending Philadelphia University for accounting. He held several finance jobs at area companies, such as PricewaterhouseCoopers and Beacon Hill Financial.

After living in the city, he moved to Glen Mills and contacted CFHS to see about volunteering. “I’ve always been passionate about nonprofits,” he said.

Larson got even more hooked when he worked on the Great Pumpkin Carve, one of CFHS’s most popular annual fundraisers. “It’s something that you have to see to believe,” he said, describing the awe that the squash artistry routinely generates.

He said he’s equally enamored of another annual fundraiser, Chadds Ford Days. He believes that the popularity of the do-it-yourself movement dovetails well with the artisans who will be demonstrating their wares.

“In today’s world, many people are turning away from mass-marketed products,” he said, suggesting that it’s inspiring to see the workmanship and dedication that goes into handcrafted goods. “What’s old is new again.”

Larson said he and Schell are committed to combining their talents to make CFHS a welcoming environment where residents can pop in, get questions answered, and enjoy the displays and events.

“I’m really interested in changing people’s perceptions of historical societies and historic house museums,” Schell said.

Area residents may want to keep their eyes on the CFHS website at to see the results of their collaboration.

Chadds Ford Days, which began as a way to commemorate the Revolutionary War Battle of Brandywine, will celebrate its 50th anniversary on Sept. 12 and 13. The Great Pumpkin Carve will be held Oct. 22 to Oct. 24.

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