Claudia Leister, the Executive Director of the Milford Museum, says that the past few weeks have been full of surprises, something she says is difficult for people to do to her. The Delaware Museum Association presented her with the Delaware Diamond Award and the Delaware Disaster Assistance Team recently informed her that a $500 fellowship has been created in her name.
“Both of these were a total surprise,” Ms. Leister said. “I am very difficult to surprise. Somehow, without even trying, I find out about surprise parties. I never go looking for Christmas or birthday gifts, but I always seem to stumble upon them. These were some pretty great surprises and I am very honored to be recognized for what I do.”
The Delaware Diamond Award, one that Ms. Leister helped developed and in past years collected applications for, recognizes an individual for their outstanding, long-term contribution to a Delaware museum or historical society. Ms. Leister said that the award is given at the Small Museum Association Conference in Ocean City each year. This year, she stood up at the meeting and informed members that she was disappointed that there were no applications for the award. It was then that the organization presented her with the award as a surprise.
Ms. Leister said that she helped form the organization which promotes history in Delaware and has served as President, Secretary and Treasurer over the years. She said that Delaware is unique as other states have county museums, while Delaware has museums in most small towns throughout the state, most of whom are run by volunteers.
“I am a firm believer in not reinventing the wheel,” Ms. Leister said. “If another museum, like Seaford or Milton has an exhibit that I think could be tailored for Milford, we work together so that we can share some of the items with each other, giving each exhibit a unique feel for each town.”
The Delaware Disaster Assistance Team (DDAT) was another organization that Ms. Leister help create by writing a grant many years ago to begin disaster planning for historical organizations like museums. She said that the goal is to create an emergency supply pod in each county that could be picked up quickly in case of a disaster. The organization works with Delaware Emergency Management (DEMA) as well. At the last meeting, Ms. Leister said that the president of the group kept confirming that Ms. Leister would be in attendance at the meeting.
“At the meeting, they informed me that the Claudia F. Leister Fellowship had been set up,” Ms. Leister said. “The fellowship will award a $500 scholarship to applicants that are actively and currently engaged in Master’s level academic studies or higher in a relevant field of study for 25 hours of total work related to disaster relief.”
Dave Kenton, a commissioner for the Milford Museum who was instrumental in bringing Ms. Leister on board at the museum, said that he could not say enough about how far Ms. Leister has brought the museum since she began working there in 2011.
“When I served as Chairman in 2002-2006, all exhibit and storage responsibilities fell on my shoulders,” Mr. Kenton said. “When Claudia was in her last few years with the State of Delaware Division of Historical and Cultural Affairs, she served on the commission and saw what needed to be done to improve the museum and its procedures. I saw in Claudia a hometown woman with tremendous experience in historic preservation and seized the opportunity to bring her expertise to the museum.”
Mr. Kenton says that since she has been a full-time employee at the museum, she has improved the semi-annual newsletters, increased the frequency of display changes, installed a property accession computer program and helped with fundraising to pay her own salary. He said that she has done all those tasks with an outgoing and positive personality that encourages others to join the organization, bringing the museum from a “stodgy storage attic to an exciting asset for Milford.”
Ms. Leister was born in Easton, Maryland and moved to Milford with her family when she was in first grade. She attended Milford schools until ninth grade when her family moved to North Carolina for one year and then to Michigan where she graduated from Holland High School. She graduated from Michigan State University with a Bachelor of Arts in English/Anthropology and received a Master of Arts in Liberal Studies from the University of Delaware. She worked as the Museum’s Collections Manager for the State of Delaware Division of Historical and Cultural Affairs for 34 years, retiring in 2011. For 13 years, she has been married to Michael Leister, who is the Director of the Air Mobility Command Museum in Dover. She and her husband live in Magnolia.
“I cannot tell you how honored and humbled I was to receive the Delaware Diamond Award and to learn that a fellowship has been set up in my name,” Ms. Leister said. “To be recognized for doing a job I love is wonderful.”