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Sagamore Hill superintendent moves on

After 6 years, Fuhrmann leaves Sagamore Hill

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It was nearly the break of dawn when Kelly Fuhrmann, superintendent of the Sagamore Hill National Historic Site, and his wife, Kara, discovered that their young daughters, Kenzie and Kelbie, were not in their beds. Their parents could still hear the chirp of the crickets, Kelly said, in the early-morning dew as they ventured out of the house on the grounds of Sagamore Hill.

“Searching for them, my wife and I found our daughters outside, not too far away,” Fuhr-mann said, explaining that this happened a few years ago. “They had set up their pink pup tent and had their flashlights and camping gear. They said they were waiting for the queen fairy to come out. That memory will endear me to this place forever.”

On Oct. 11, Fuhrmann, 51, left his position at what was once the Summer White House and Theodore Roosevelt’s home to become superintendent at El Malpais and El Morro national monuments in New Mexico.

Fuhrmann, who is originally from Wisconsin, has worked for the National Park Service for 22 years. He oversaw Sagamore Hill for nearly six years, arriving the last year of the renovation of the house museum. Sue Sarna, its curator, said the process had been going on for nearly four years, and it was a difficult time for a new person to join the effort.

“He was thrown into it and did a good job,” Sarna said of Fuhrmann. “He realized it was in the final stages, and trusted the staff to do what they were doing. The timing of his arrival could have been a disaster.”

Sarna added that Fuhrmann was a calming force, which was needed at the time. “He taught me how to listen better and take in something first before reacting,” she said. “He was what we needed at the time.”

Fuhrmann said that he extended his stay at Sagamore Hill because he wanted to continue developing a host of projects, which needed funding. The garden project is one of them, planned for the half acre of property at the entrance. Because he was able to get the funding, he said, work on the garden will begin next spring. Planning was one of his primary roles as a superintendent.

Another project he has worked to see come to fruition is the exposure of the foundation of the stable and lodge that Roosevelt built in the 1880s, northeast of the house. It burned to the ground in 1947. Fuhrmann acquire the funding for archeologists to unearth the foundation, which will allow visitors to see it, and read the plaque explaining its significance.

Fuhrmann also secured funding for the rifle pit, a target range that Roosevelt used, behind the new barn and east of the house. Currently overgrown, it too will be unearthed by archeologists this year to make public viewing possible.

Acquiring funding is tedious, Fuhrmann said. Proposals for projects need to be submitted to the federal government, and then reviewed. It can be a long process.

One of his proudest accomplishments, he said, is the creation of the Theodore Roosevelt Legacy, which presents lectures and symposiums. Fuhrmann said it was part of his commitment to create opportunities for the community to interact with Sagamore Hill and learn more of the former president’s story.

“The Legacy addresses the needs in the park for expanding our partnership programs,” he explained. “It is separate from the parks services and does public outreach. Having the Amateur Observers’ Society of New York come here is an example. Another is having the naturalization ceremony performed here in mid-September each year.”

As much as he enjoyed his work at Sagamore Hill, Fuhrmann said there have been challenges. The fire on Christmas Eve 2018, which destroyed the visitors’ center, may have been the most difficult. But Fuhrmann is able to focus on the positive. Once the remains of the center are removed — which will be soon — the grounds will become a chicken coop, he said, like it was in Roosevelt’s day.

Sarna said she enjoyed working with Fuhrmann, and appreciated his willingness to let her try new ideas. “The conservation exhibit was a modern exhibit, which he let me do,” she said. “Bringing modern art to historic grounds some didn’t like. But Kelly always let the staff run with new ideas we had never tried here before like this.”

Fuhrmann said that another reason why he stayed longer at Sagamore Hill was to benefit his daughters, who are now 7 and 8. He wanted them to enjoy the landscape he said, and to understand the significance of the 26th president.

“I will miss the combination of people and place, living on the grounds,” he said. “My favorite time here was early morning, when I could sit outside and listen to the sounds — the birds. Then, later in the day, to see the grasshoppers and other insects in the field.”