Getting to know the new Rock County Historical Society Executive Director.
Interview by Teresa Nguyen
Are you from the area?
Yes. I was born in Janesville, but raised in Milwaukee. I’ve lived in Wisconsin my entire life.
What first sparked your interest in history?
As a child, my family’s vacations centered around traveling to historical sites. Whether it was in Wisconsin or on our cross-country journey in the late 70’s, we would always stop at historical sites along the way. This was really a passion of my father’s that he wanted to share with us children.
As I became an adult, I was really drawn to historic architecture, historic preservation, and those types of things. It’s just really melded together.
What were your activities in high school?
I played soccer in high school. I also played both saxophone and clarinet in the bands; marching band, jazz band, concert band. Additionally, I was in choir for a couple of years.
What were your ambitions after high school?
As most kids do, freshman and sophomore year were kind of a blur because you’re just trying to figure out what it’s all about. Then, in the last years, after you get your driver’s license and get a job in high school, you focus more on your academic subjects. I had made the decision to go on to study business, and attended Madison Business College.
Where did you work after that?
Interestingly enough, I started working for an environmental engineering firm, RMT, Inc. in the Records Management division. Our product was our reports. We were a consulting engineering firm, so we had to go study, create plans for remediation and corrective action, and then document everything in sometimes very lengthy reports.
We worked with companies and organizations all around the world in that capacity. There was a lot of litigation associated with that type of work, as well. My boss at the time was the corporate librarian, so we had a full-on active library and a really strong, significant Records Management operation, as well.
Tell us about the evolution of your career there.
When I started in that position, we had 75 five-drawer filing cabinets packed to the gills with paper, another full banker box on top of that, and all the records were tracked by hand on paper and in binders. When I left that role with the organization five years later, we had put in a database and I had over 700,000 records created in the database. I was tracking and finding where materials were, working with our offsite storage to ensure document stability, and microfiche, which we don’t do anymore. It was a variety of things.
From there, the IT division was really looking at the work I was doing, and how my mind just naturally went toward databases and process improvement work using technologies. I moved into the IT department, and my job responsibility was to support the finance system. I was able to apply my background with technology and my accounting studies to support the enterprise in accounting.
My career with RMT, Inc. continued to grow. About two years before moving into IT, I became the Manager of the Business Information division, then eventually became the IT Manager.
Throughout my entire career, both in IT and Records Management, we were growing at a very fast pace through mergers and acquisitions. I was very involved with those processes, as far as integrating new companies merging together with existing companies. Toward the end, I became involved with divesting our company and breaking it off, so my role changed, and I was put under contract to stay through the final bail of the company.
I had worked with RMT, Inc. for 23 years, and in management positions since 1997. Then, the new owners came in and interviewed all the existing staff. I was one of two people who were asked to say onboard with them. Suddenly, I was working for a renewable energy construction company, IEA. I became the Director of Business Process and IT, so had kind of a dual role.
What happened from there?
It was a lot of travel. I was on the road every single week. My staff was in Madison, another staff in Indiana, and a boss in Chicago. So, I was basically running the circuit every week and decided I just couldn’t do that. It wasn’t sustainable.
Meanwhile, a former colleague had moved to the Wisconsin Historical Society, and he knew that I was a board member at the Rock County Historical Society. He encouraged me to apply for the Director of IT position. It was a perfect fit at the time, which was nearly 5 years ago.
What have you enjoyed about working at the Wisconsin Historical Society?
What I’ve liked about it is that it empowers me to deploy my professional mantra, to understand what their business processes are. It’s a marriage of the things that I’m interested in.
In my role, I’ve been able to help improve their business processes in order to grow into the 21st century. I was able to help update some antiquated things, disjointed areas that were not a part of IT. I’ve had the opportunity to work with the historic sites around the state, helping them with programs and activities, really enabling them to focus on their mission statements.
What has been your craziest work adventure?
I think my craziest work adventure, and I drove a lot of pleasure from this, was around the time RMT was sold. I moved out of a building I’d been in 30 years and we set up office space for the staff that moved over. Getting to know a new staff and new boss was exciting. It was all in February, March and April of 2013. Those three months were insane, adventurous and a lot of fun.
What interested you in Janesville?
When I moved to Janesville in 2005, I was very excited about the historic preservation ordinance on Courthouse Hill. I am into historical home restorations and had bought and restored six homes in Cambridge, Stoughton and Fort Atkinson.
When did you join the Janesville Historic Commission?
I worked with Brad Cantrell with the City, and he had encouraged me to join the Historic Commission and the RCHS board in 2008, so I joined both.
Tell us about when you joined the RCHS board.
In 2008, the Rock County Historical Society board had an opening because Lee Foster had stepped down, so I ended up filling the rest of his term. After a couple of years of serving, I chose not to renew because I became very busy with my work. Then, in 2012, I returned to the RCHS board.
What roles did you serve while on the RCHS board?
I served on the Executive Committee the entire time. I became Board Secretary for the first two years. Then, upon my return in 2012, I came in as Vice President. I served as VP for one year, and then became RCHS Board President.
What was going on at RCHS at that time?
Well, I was impressed with the Breadbasket Exhibit, which was a yearlong traveling exhibit that chronicled Rock County’s culinary history. The exhibit ran for a year from 2013-14. The exhibit targeted youth of all ages, families and underprivileged families.
We were trying to grow the footprints a bit. At the time, we were in the process of restoring the Archives and Genealogy building. We were coming up with plans to explore the Carriage House restoration, as well. When we were gifted the rental properties, we worked on seeing that through.
At that time, I worked with a number of people on the board, along with Oakleigh Ryan, on the Rock County Historical Society’s Strategic Plan. It was very exciting. It was the first moment I realized that with all the enthusiasm toward the regrowth of our community, that this actually had a chance to happen!
Over the years at RCHS, what has excited you most?
I think the thing that has really created a deep-rooted passion is seeing how the community has responded to the programming and outreach efforts. It’s incredible how we have increased our numbers over the last six years. It’s been truly fascinating to me, and it has energized me to see the trajectory continue to grow.
I firmly believe there’s something for everyone at RCHS. That’s one of the aspects I’m most passionate about – sharing those things.
For many, it was difficult to see former Executive Director Mike Reuter leave. What was that like for you?
It was bittersweet. I truly enjoyed working alongside Mike. We challenged each other. It was an extremely solid relationship. However, I’m also a realist, and saw that it was time in his life and his career to spread his wings. While I’d rather see him every day, I’m ultimately happy for him. He’s doing something he’s passionate about.
How did you feel about taking on the Executive Director position?
I was honored to even be considered for the role. Working with the staff and the board, I’m really excited about the new challenges ahead.
Who has been a role model to you?
The one that stands out the most is a gentleman named Matt Dedrick. He was my former boss and really taught me how to be a good leader. He was humble and engaging, and he really had a tactful way of keeping people together to achieve goals.
Now for a few light-hearted questions. Where is your favorite retreat?
In my garden. It’s nature.
What music soothes you?
What is your Junk food weakness?
Potato chips, probably the sea salt/cracked pepper flavor.
Who is your favorite author?
Isak Dinesen, who wrote Out of Africa and other novels. That story really reinforced my connection with nature and my interest in other cultures. It inspired me to just be present.
You have done a lot of traveling. If you could return to a favorite spot, where would that be?
Madrid, Spain. My partner and I enjoy visiting family there. It is a perfect balance of a beautiful, historical city, a great climate and amazing food.
Tell us about your foreign exchange student and how that came about.
The School District of Janesville had a student named Juan, who was from Spain. They understood our ties to the country, as well. So, they reached out to us, kind of last minute, to see if we would be willing to take a student from Spain into our home for the whole school year. Without hesitation, we simply said yes. We have a large home with the space, and it was going to be fun to have some more life in it.
He came early September of last year and stayed through the end of June. He was 16, but here in Janesville he received the senior experience, so he actually walked with the Craig High School graduating class and received a diploma.
It was a very good experience. We were very fortunate. It allowed us to meet so many other people in the community who have had similar experiences fostering exchange students. It was very fulfilling and I feel like we have a lifetime connection now with this young man and his family.
We have a cousin who lives in Barcelona, as well, so we will be traveling there at some point to visit Juan again sometime soon.
What brings you joy on a daily basis?
My dogs, especially watching them play. We focus on taking in rescue dogs and have three now. Roby is 11 years old and Rocco is one. He was rescued from Houston, Texas in Hurricane Harvey. Arlo is just 5 months.
I also find joy in working with people when they realized their own satisfaction and growth in their jobs.
Do you have a special hobby or talent many people don’t know about?
I’m a gearhead when it comes to cars. I’m fascinated by automobiles. I would have more unique cars in my collection, if I could. My favorite era of vehicles is the 1960’s and 1970’s. The design work & engineering that went into them is incredible.
Name a historical figure you admire.
I always go to Teddy Roosevelt. He was the right person at the right time for our country. I love this quote: “In any moment of decision, the best thing you can do is the right thing, the next best thing is the wrong thing, and the worst thing you can do is nothing.”
As Executive Director, what are you looking forward to in the short and long-term at RCHS?
In the short term, I look forward to seeing the plans for the campus redevelopment coming to fruition. Creating the campus nucleus is an exciting project, which will be seen as a wonderful gathering spot for the community to share.
In the long term, I hope to see us working together to figure out how to get the Janesville collections we currently have on exhibit. We have such a diversity of things from the china, to the gun collection, to the architecture, the oral history, and more. We can become an epicenter for all those things.
How do you see our Rock County community today, are we in forward drive?
I would say absolutely we are in forward drive! That’s been one of the most exciting parts about stepping into this role; to be interacting with so many around the county who all share this value. We are moving ahead!
“I firmly believe there’s something for everyone at RCHS. That’s one of the aspects I’m most passionate about – sharing those things” ~ Timothy Maahs