Director of the Ward O’Hara Agricultural & Country Living Museum in Auburn
Cayuga County resident Ward O’Hara, who died in 1997, was a farmer, John Deere dealer, writer, legislator and antiques collector. He wanted everyone to understand and celebrate the area’s rich agricultural and rural heritage. His dream was to create a museum that would display and preserve old farm implements, household utensils and other everyday items that former members of his community had put to good use. What’s more, it would be hands-on to bring history to life.
Ward worked hard to make it happen, and donated many items from his personal collection when the museum opened in 1975. Today his vision lives on, thanks in part to museum Director Tim Quill. When you meet him, you’ll see that he and the museum were made for each other.
Tim – it seems like you’re a perfect fit to direct a history museum.
Yes! Nearly 13 years ago, when I saw the ad for a part-time director of the agricultural museum, I knew it was right for me. I started in 2008.
It’s my second career. In the spring of 2007, at age 55, I retired from my first career as a social studies teacher at Marion Central School in Wayne County. I taught grades 7 and 9 for 33 years and thoroughly enjoyed every minute. The 7th-grade curriculum was New York State and United States history, so I spent a lot of time teaching local history and geography to my students.
Did you grow up in the Finger Lakes?
I have spent my entire life in the Town of Aurelius in Cayuga County, at the north end of Cayuga Lake. When I was growing up, my parents owned a dairy farm just outside the Village of Cayuga. I attended Cayuga Elementary School and Union Springs High School. I taught in Marion, but I have always lived within a mile of my childhood home.
I joined the local fire department when I was 18; I’ve been a member for 50 years. I have been active in my local church and was a Boy Scout leader for many years.
The Finger Lakes as a whole, in my opinion, is the prettiest place on Earth. You could not find a better spot to work and raise a family.
How has the museum changed since you started?
It began in an old 4-H pavilion in Emerson Park. The 40- by 100-foot space was unheated, so it was only available for visitors in the summer. Today, the museum encompasses 18,000 square feet of exhibit space that is open year-round. It features a climate-controlled education center and many wings with displays. The focus is on agriculture, but also on the development of the industries that made Auburn and Cayuga County a thriving place to live and work in the 1800s and 1900s.
The people who offer me praise and accolades for the work I have done here believe I am too humble. They think that I don’t fully understand how much the museum has grown since I became director. Yes, it has come a long way, but it is not my accomplishment solely. It was accomplished by a team of people who really believe in the mission of the museum, and believe that it is one of the top tourist destinations in the county and the Finger Lakes.