The Reitz Home Museum is undergoing a leadership change. Trustees of the historic Evansville property at Southeast First and Chestnut streets say the position of executive director became vacant on Jan. 25.
Former Executive Director Matt Rowe had been in the role since 2011, when he succeeded the retiring Tess Grimm. A text message to Rowe from Evansville Business wasn’t returned, and the Board of Trustees declined to comment beyond a prepared statement.
“The trustees have formed a search committee to identify the most qualified and appropriate candidate to continue the mission of preserving the legacy of our beloved Reitz Home,” the statement reads. “In the interim, the existing staff is still operating the museum.”
The museum remains open as normal, according to the statement.
“Also, in recent days, many vacant board positions have been filled with the community volunteers who share in vision of the Reitz Home,” the statement continues. “The trustees are committed to restoring abandoned fundraising events, improving the financial position of the museum, and increasing the visibility of the Reitz Home throughout the Greater Evansville region.”
It concludes by saying that trustees “are each stepping up to become even more active in the organization and are dedicated to ensuring a smooth transition in the coming weeks and months.”
The museum’s Board of Trustees has changed officers and added members in recent days. Jennifer Stevens now holds the role of president. Mindy Word is vice president, Heatherly Hite is secretary, and Cathie Hite is treasurer.
Other board members are Marsha Alexandrovich, Elizabeth Beck, Elmer Buchta, Kay Cox, Pam Guthrie, Amy Hayden, Mike Hoover, Charles Hudson, Shaunda Lynch, Mary McCarthy, Laura Symon, Karen Timberlake, and Lloyd Winnecke.
Beloved by its supporters and a staple of its Downtown Evansville neighborhood, the three-story Reitz Home Museum at 112 Chestnut St. dates to 1871. It was the home of John Augustus Reitz, a native of Prussia who grew up in a German family and immigrated to the U.S. in the 1830s. Reitz — known as the “Lumber Baron” for his business in the sawmill industry — married Gertrude Frisse, also from Prussia, and the couple had 10 children from 1841 to 1863.
When the Reitz Home was completed, the couple had eight children under roof. Two daughters, Julia and Mary, had married and established their own homes by then.
One of the couple’s sons, Francis Joseph Reitz, followed his father into a life of business and philanthropy. According to the museum’s website, F.J. Reitz and siblings still living in the Second Empire house “redecorated its interior with late-period Victorian furnishings plus some aesthetic movement style and arts and crafts style furnishings. They also incorporated the newest technologies, including electricity and indoor plumbing.”
The museum still has many original touches, including French gilt chandeliers shining down on hand-laid wood parquet floors. The home features tile and marble fireplaces, walnut wainscoting in Moorish design, and stained glass window panels.
The Catholic Diocese of Evansville bought the home in 1945 and established it as a residence for Evansville’s first bishop, Henry J. Grimmelsman. The Reitz Home Preservation Society was established in 1974 and took ownership at that time. The museum — which includes a historic carriage house that contains staff offices and an education center — is on the National Register of Historic Places.
The board of trustees governs the museum. The preservation society operates it with help from docents who give guided tours and volunteers who help decorate the mansion. A 501(c)(3) nonprofit, the museum generates income through event rentals and fundraisers such as a Santa Brunch in December and its series of Wine Down to the Weekend outdoor music performances. Prior fundraisers included a Kentucky Derby party and murder mystery play.