Energetic historical leader moves on to local laboratory

Energetic historical leader moves on to local laboratory

Heather Johnson has been at the helm of The Northport Historical Society for the past five years. Photo by Alex Petroski

The Northport Historical Society is searching for a new director, as Heather Johnson, who has held the position for five years, is moving on to a new job with Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory.

“Her enthusiasm for her job radiates from her and has enabled the Northport community to become much more supportive,” society board of trustees President Steven King said about Johnson in an interview Tuesday. “All of our events that involve social interaction have improved because she enjoys doing things for people, helping people, takes pride in Northport community and that’s been very helpful over the past five years to make the historical society a more successful institution in the village.”

Johnson, whose last day is Feb. 11, arrived in January 2011 with nearly two decades of experience in various departments at Hofstra University. She spent time in their public relations department and in the office of international admissions, taught art history and even spent time working in their on-campus museum.

Johnson also had a unique upbringing, spending years living in New York City, Jacksonville, Florida, and England while her mother pursued an opera career. She returned to Long Island in 1989 and currently lives in Smithtown.

Above, the Northport Historical Society. Photo from Heather Johnson
Above, the Northport Historical Society. Photo from Heather Johnson

Her journey prior to landing in Northport, coupled with some of her own personal interests, made the position at the historical society a fit too perfect to pass up.

“I’m a history buff,” Johnson said in an interview Tuesday. “I’ve always loved history, since I was a little kid.” She laughed and added, “There are not many little girls who are interested in history.”

Johnson saw a 20 percent increase in membership in her first year alone, bringing the society’s total membership to more than 400. She maintained that number during the rest of her five-year tenure. The group also has a new website.

The outgoing director was adamant that she accomplished nothing on her own.

“I’m not going to take credit for anything that’s happened around here,” Johnson said. “It really is a team. What we have is people who are really dedicated and who really love Northport, and are very interested in the historical society, or history in general.”

During her time, Johnson was responsible for scheduling programs and exhibits for the museum, recruiting members and creating events. Some of her favorites that she mentioned were a Civil War cooking class and an educational and social tour of Northport Harbor.

“My mantra has been to educate and to entertain,” Johnson said. “When you can put those two things together, it’s a beautiful thing.”

King was not as dismissive of Johnson’s impact and accomplishments as she was.

“I don’t think that there’s any way to replace personality traits that Heather has,” King said. “We hope to settle on a final candidate who has some of what Heather has brought to us, but perhaps a different set of capabilities that will enhance our mission in the future.”

“There are not many little girls who are interested in history.”
— Heather Johnson

Johnson shared an emailed letter from a community member that she received when news of her imminent departure got out. The sender preferred to remain anonymous.

“We have learnt a lot about the village, its history and its people — and always in a welcoming and congenial setting,” the email reads.

Johnson plans to maintain a relationship with the historical society as a member of the fundraising committee and their gallery committee. She also insists that she’s not leaving the community that has become such a large part of her life, mainly due to the close bond she feels.

“This village, and Northport in general, they just really know how to come together for each other,” she said. “I plan to eat, play and shop in Northport for the rest of my life. It’s just a really, really incredible place.”

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