Local museum director Tim Neumann receives regional honor

Tim Neumann in Memorial Hall Museum in Deerfield.

Tim Neumann in Memorial Hall Museum in Deerfield. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

Tim Neumann in Memorial Hall Museum in Deerfield.

Tim Neumann in Memorial Hall Museum in Deerfield. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ


Staff Writer

Published: 12-04-2023 3:58 PM

DEERFIELD — For his “innovative and creative” community partnerships, projects and initiatives, the New England Museum Association has awarded Pocumtuck Valley Memorial Association (PVMA) Executive Director Tim Neumann one of its 2023 Excellence Awards.

Neumann, 72, has led the museum located on Memorial Street in Deerfield for nearly five decades and has seen it grow into a central part of the area’s history.

“It’s great to have the struggles of the past 48 years and the great projects that have resulted from them recognized … After the first 10 years, I never felt like we were just serving the tourists coming through,” Neumann said. “Small museums are usually in the shadows, so it’s especially gratifying when you’re at a small museum and receive recognition from your peers.”

The New England Museum Association is a regional organization dedicated to highlighting and supporting museums around New England. Each year, several individuals and museums are honored with excellence awards for “extraordinary effort and commitment to the New England museum community,” according to its website.

While Neumann was recognized as an individual in the “general excellence” category, he emphasized it is more than just him and this award is indicative of the work the musuem’s staff have all put in together.

“It’s a team effort of really remarkable people,” he added, noting most of the museum’s staff over the years have been “local talent” and “local scholars.” “This is the greatest and widest recognition that we could receive.”

Each candidate must be nominated for the award and in his nomination letter, PVMA President Carol Letson praised Neumann for how he has “dedicated his life to the belief that understanding history makes a difference in people’s lives.”

“An unsung hero, he has worked tirelessly with communities to preserve and share their histories,” Letson wrote. “Through passion, grit, vision, and determination, Tim has been the quintessential little engine that could, shining a light on lesser-known diverse histories and transforming a sleepy historical society on the verge of demise into a vibrant community-driven museum.”

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Part of changing lives is through education and Neumann has worked with all sorts of school districts, with the crowning work coming in 1996 when PVMA launched American Centuries: View from New England, which was one of the earliest museum-based education websites and has continued to serve educators and students around the country since. American Centuries is due for a modern makeover within the next few years after the museum received a grant in 2021.

Letson also highlighted the various initiatives the museum has launched under Neumann’s direction, including the 29-year-old African Americans in Early Rural New England project and the award-winning 2004 website Raid on Deerfield: The Many Stories of 1704, which shared the stories of the raid from numerous perspectives, including Indigenous voices.

Prior to his decades of work in Franklin County, Neumann was born in Fresno, California and spent many of his childhood years going on trips with his parents, who were involved in both religious and Indigenous work.

After moving to North Carolina, Neumann went to Wheaton College in Illinois before finding his way to Deerfield through a fellowship program at Historic Deerfield.

Soon after attending graduate school at Harvard University, Neumann was recruited to be PVMA’s first museum professional in 1975, where he has remained ever since. At the very least, he intends to stay through the United States’ 250th anniversary celebration 2026, in which the museum will be launching several initiatives to commemorate the country’s founding.

“I really liked the village and the region and the whole Franklin County area,” he said. “I never would have guessed I’d stay here for 48 years.”

Reflecting on his life, he said many people to come a point in life where they have to make the decision of “blooming where you’re planted” or being a rolling stone.

“I chose the blooming,” he said.

Chris Larabee can be reached at clarabee@recorder.com or 413-930-4081.