When he leaves in July, Ed Varno will have served 25 years

CANANDAIGUA — Local history is more than knowing who owned the grand house on North Main Street in Canandaigua.

People love history and the people and their stories that tell of the past, according to Ed Varno, executive director of the Ontario County Historical Society.

But in learning more about the past, people ought to enjoy the experience, Varno said.

“We must make a good impression,” said Varno, who is announcing his retirement, effective July 23, 2020 — 25 years to the day he signed on for the job.

The society’s board of directors is now seeking his replacement, which could prove difficult because of the good impression he’s made on the community during his tenure.

Christopher Hubler, who is president of the organization, said the society had lost its direction, its staff was laid off and its finances were “not in the best of shape” when Varno came aboard.

“Ed picked up the pieces and with a lot of hard work, unique ideas and community support, he rebuilt the staff and created a welcoming atmosphere that made the organization a viable cultural institution for our county,” Hubler said in a prepared statement.

Varno is credited with bringing creativity to promoting local history. For instance, he found a President Theodore Roosevelt impersonator for an event celebrating the society’s 100th anniversary in 2002. Varno also once dressed in Depression-era garb and sold pencils on the street to raise money for a payroll.

The society also has won several awards over the years for programming, including the Museum Association of New York’s creative award for its Architectural Scavenger Hunt and by the New York State Cultural Heritage Tourism Network for museum Curator Wilma Townsend’s book, “Votes for Women: The Suffrage Movement in Ontario County, New York.”

In recent years, the museum, which Varno said holds a “phenomenal collection,” has housed several special themed exhibits, including suffrage in 2017, World War I in 2018, prohibition this year and next, immigration.

Above all, the museum is an educational institution and with the fairly recent addition of Ontario County Arts Council exhibits, a cultural one as well.

“The history is going to be there,” Varno said. “The Society has to figure out how to handle it.”

Varno, who lives in Cheshire, said he pledged to give at least three months of guidance to a new executive director, should it be needed, to help in the transition.

The hope is to gather applications and resumés by Jan. 10, 2020.

“We want to cast a wide net and we want to get the best,” Varno said.

Varno said he will leave a good team in place that includes Townsend, museum educator Preston Pierce, receptionists Maureen O’Connell Baker and Barbara Hill, and the nearly 50 volunteers who help in the day-to-day operation of the museum and its fundraisers.

“I am proud of our team,” Varno said. “Together, we have created a welcoming place where history, culture and learning come together. We are grateful for the community support.”