Museum L-A Executive Director Rachel Desgrosseilliers, left, discusses how the museum obtained certain artifacts with Lewiston Deputy City Administrator Denis D’Auteuil. Sun Journal file photo by Russ Dillingham

LEWISTON — Rachel Desgrosseilliers, longtime executive director of Museum L-A, announced Thursday she will step down from that position.

She is not stepping very far, however. There is still the matter of building a new museum on the banks of the Androscoggin River, which is a dream Desgrosseilliers wants to see to the end.

“Because I am totally committed to the success of the project, although I step down as executive director, it is to allow me to devote time to the museum’s vision as consultant,” she wrote in a prepared statement. “I will help the building and capital campaign effort for the new museum, so you will be hearing from me again.”

The announcement came Thursday afternoon from Margaret Craven, chairwoman of the Museum L-A board of directors.

“The date we have feared for many years is upon us,” Craven wrote, “but her retirement is well-deserved and her infectious energy and positive attitude brought much respect for and enthusiasm at the museum.”

Elliott Epstein, founder and president of the museum, once said of Desgrosseilliers, “We thought we had brought on a hurricane in Rachel, but discovered that we were actually dealing with a tornado.”

Rachel has served as Museum L-A’s executive director since April 2004, when she was to serve two days a week for six months.

It did not quite work out that way.

“This spring, I completed 15 years of nearly nonstop work, which was a whirlwind of truly amazing experiences,” Desgrosseilliers wrote. “People ask me, ‘Why did you stay so long?’ It is because early on, I saw what it meant to our elders needing legacy of their work, the children’s thirst to learn about their community and visitors leaving in awe of who we were as a people.”

The search for Desgrosseilliers’ successor is underway. Nobody expects it to be easy.

“Rachel’s brilliance has been inspirational,” said Denise Scammon, Museum L-A marketing director. “Her genius continues to provide protection for historic artifacts. I am referring to her dumpster-diving days — she has been known to look in the back of dump trucks and dumpsters at key moments, thus rescuing historic treasures that tell the story of work, community and people. She’s been diligent and enthusiastic about sharing these stories at the museum.

“We had over 4,600 visitors at the museum last year,” Scammon said. “If you looked at the surveys our visitors fill out, you’d see that we have had visitors from 44 states and 12 countries. Our visitors leave comments about how much they enjoyed touring the museum and learning about the mills, but most importantly, our visitors say they enjoy hearing the stories about the people who worked in the mills. Rachel has made sure that oral histories are woven into the fabric of the museum, making the tours immersive.”

“Rachel brought a curiosity and daring to try new things, a warmth and passion to whomever passed through the museum as she became a friend to all with a sense of vision to advancing our essential mission,” Craven said.

“She is leaving the organization at a time it is ready to move into its next phase as an organization from which to continue its important work. She will work with the board through the planned transition and remain a very active force for the vision of the new museum.”


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