Matthew S. Schulte has been executive director of Steamship Historical Society of America since 2007. Under his leadership the organization has consolidated operations, grown its membership, and restructured the 80-year-old operation. He is a member and supporter of many non-profit organizations including Chris-Craft Antique Boat Club and the Antique & Classic Boat Society. Here he discusses the continuing evolution of the nonprofit.
PBN: The Steamship Historical Society of America on May 22 opened its Ship History Center on Post Road in Warwick. What’s new there?
SCHULTE: The opening of the Ship History Center is a big step forward in this organization’s history, and the first time that many of these items have been made available to anyone outside of our members and staff.
For years, much of our collection has been boxed up and stored in libraries and warehouses ranging from Long Island to Baltimore. It wasn’t until just a couple of months ago that it was all relocated here to Rhode Island, where we have been working to catalogue and display the items we have acquired over the last eight decades.
This is a treasure trove of knowledge for any researcher studying the history of engine-powered vessels.
PBN: When will the center be open to the general public beyond scheduled appointments and what measures are in place to get there?
SCHULTE: We are still developing a timetable to open the center to the general public. It’s more than simply raising money. We need to add staff and volunteers and further interpret and develop the displays that are in place so they appeal and make sense to those who aren’t already well-versed in the subject.
We are working closely with our board to determine what resources are available and will keep moving forward with this goal at the forefront.
PBN: What is the purpose of the Image Porthole and how does it work?
SCHULTE: The Image Porthole is a project launched in 2008 to help identify thousands of steamship navigation images dating from the 1850s through the 1980s. These pictures range from fragile, large-format glass plate images from many regions around the United States to color slide photos depicting ships, ports, steam trains and people.
Many were acquired from the collection of the late Edward O. Clark – a [Society] benefactor and historian – however, they were unidentified and deteriorating. Thanks to support from the Champlin Foundations, we were able to clean, preserve and scan all of the images and put them online at www.sshsa.org, with the ultimate goal of having our members and the general public identify them.
Members can type directly into the database, while the general public can email us with any information that they have.
PBN: What are your fund raising goals for the center now and in the coming year?
SCHULTE: Right now, we are working on a fundraising challenge pledged by one of our board members, Brent Dibner, and his wife, Relly. They have pledged $100,000 if the organization can raise $300,000 in gifts of $25,000 or more between now and June 2016. Additional fundraising efforts and activities will be announced later this year.
PBN: How many members do you have and what has been their feedback on the new center to date?
SCHULTE: We have close to 3,000 members representing more than 40 countries. Last weekend was our annual membership meeting, and the response has been overwhelmingly positive so far.
Because this was the first time that most of our members saw the new facility, most were pleasantly surprised as they realized the true breadth of our collection. One member in particular, who has been with the organization for more than 50 years, smiled as he walked around and said that he thought this day would never come.