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‘The Heritage Society is for the people’ : New director is excited to delve into local history

Suzanne Obetz stands outside Belle Boyd Cottage on Chester Street in Front Roal. Obetz was recently hired as the executive director of the Warren Heritage Society. Rich Cooley/Daily

FRONT ROYAL – The Warren Heritage Society’s new executive director is ready to dive in and share the area’s rich history.

Suzanne Obetz, who is from Tennessee but has lived in Northern Virginia for 20-plus years, previously served as the Fauquier History Museum’s interim director. She is also a Fauquier Historical Society board member and recently began the Historic Building Foundation, a nonprofit organization that aims to save historic buildings.

She is replacing Patrick Farris, who stepped down in October 2017 after 13 years as executive director.

Obetz took the helm July 2 and said she is just beginning her descent into the  local history. Although Front Royal Civil War history is abundant, she said: “We’re about so much more than that and I definitely want to bring that out and show everything that we have to offer.”

She said one goal is updating the museum’s exhibits by attempting to “delve a little more into the history of Warren County.” She said it is too early to say how those exhibits will be updated, but noted that there are plenty of options.

Beyond the Civil War, she said the county has a notable “Revolutionary footprint” and that George Washington and his troops were stomping around “right in our backyard.” She added that there is also a rich Native American heritage that should be promoted.

In her short time as director, Obetz said she has talked to citizens in attempts to learn what they would like the museum to showcase.

“I want to know as much as I possibly can, and then I want to highlight the things that are important to the people,” she said. “The Heritage Society is for the people.”

She said another one of her goals is to enhance the Festival of Leaves, which is the Heritage Society’s largest annual fundraiser. She would also like to plan other events such as a possible wine tasting or craft beer festival.

“Just something like that to bring people from other parts of Northern Virginia to Front Royal to see what kind of history we have to offer,” she said.

Obetz said she also looks forward to educating the public, particularly students.

“Our history is being somewhat overlooked lately, it seems like. It’s so important for kids to grow up knowing where they came from, knowing the mistakes of the past and how we’ve learned from it,” she said.

She noted that 43 kids visited the museum last week and were all excited to learn about their hometown’s history. Such experiences, she said, are important because schools “hit the highlights of history” but there is a much deeper story.

“It’s really great to see peoples’ face light up and say ‘wow, I had no idea that happened here’ and they kind of connect it together with all of the things they learn in school,” she said. These visits, she said, provide a backstory to school lessons.

“A lot of the things that happened in Warren County, you don’t hear in the history books…if we can help teach the kids and get them interested in history, then we’re teaching future adults to take care of our history,” she said.

Obetz said she was attracted to the Heritage Society because she loves how small towns “really come together to save their heritage and their history.”

“Once you get into a bigger metropolitan area, you kind of lose that a little bit, but I love the sense of community that Front Royal has,” she said.

She added that the Heritage Society has a lot of potential and “there’s so much that we can do to help the community move forward in so many directions.”

Her position is part-time, 30 hours a week, which she said is perfect with two teenage children. Still, she plans to extend her efforts beyond normal working hours to obtain a full grasp on Warren County’s history.

“I’ve only been here a week and a half, so I’m studying up as much as I can,” she said. “It’s a lot to learn, but fortunately, I enjoy that.”

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