For right person, the chance to commune with Kipling

For right person, the chance to commune with Kipling

Landmark Trust seeks new executive director

DUMMERSTON — Landmark Trust USA, the nonprofit organization that owns five restored, historic buildings available for short-term rental, is looking for a new executive director.

The Trust also owns Scott Farm, a 571-acre for-profit farm and orchard on Kipling Road in Dummerston, and five long-term rentals on the property.

“We're hoping to get a new executive director by the fall, or the end of the year,” said Alex Wilson, vice president of the Landmark Trust USA Board of Directors. “But, if the right person emerges next week, they'd start then,” Wilson added.

“This is a dream job. You come [to the farm] every day, it's good money, and you're surrounded by foodies,” said Kelly Carlin, operations manager of Scott Farm and Landmark Trust USA.

Scott Farm is locally and nationally recognized for Orchard Manager Zeke Goodband's work transforming the 19th-century farm from an impecunious MacIntosh orchard to a lucrative operation growing over 125 varieties of apples, including many heirlooms. In recent years, the farm's output has expanded to include peaches, plums, ginger, medlars, apricots, quince, grapes, and three kinds of berries.

Landmark Trust's other notable holding is Naulakha, the 120-year-old former home of Rudyard Kipling.

'Connect with Kipling'

The Landmark Trust USA began in 1991 as the domestic branch of The Landmark Trust UK, an organization that owns and maintains 200 historic buildings in England and Europe.

The UK organization expanded into the U.S. specifically to acquire and restore Naulakha, where Kipling wrote some of his most celebrated literature, including The Jungle Book, several of the Just So stories, and Captains Courageous.

Fifteen years ago, Landmark Trust USA spun off on its own, and it is now an independent entity with headquarters at Scott Farm.

“At the time he was living here, Kipling was the most famous writer in the world, and when his studio was built, it was designed to protect him from that day's version of paparazzi,” Wilson said.

“You can connect with Kipling in a personal way” by staying at Naulakha, Wilson noted. Landmark Trust USA's work, he said, “is helping people get in touch with history."

The Landmark Trust Board is working with TSNE MissionWorks of Boston to search for a new executive director. “They specialize in nonprofits,” said Wilson, who noted the Landmark board is engaged in the search, as well.

At the end of July, a representative from the search firm met with the board to work on a complete job description. Wilson told The Commons it should appear on Landmark Trust USA's website in the next few weeks.

When asked about the timing of hiring a new leader, Wilson said, “We wanted to clear up some of the challenges from Tansey and develop a clean slate for the new executive director."

In 2013, after former Executive Director David Tansey's departure, the board hired Newfane resident Tristam B. Johnson Jr. as interim executive director.

“He's one of the nicest people I've ever met,” Carlin said of Johnson.

In a news release, board president Gregory Farmer said, “Tristam's achievements with The Landmark Trust USA have helped position the organization for growth. He has helped to advance the organization's educational mission by reconnecting with the community and sponsoring programs such as the Rudyard Kipling Young Writer's Award."

“He's done a really great job stabilizing the organization, and he implemented many systems and processes, including a tracking system for the rentals,” Wilson said, “but he's really not a fundraiser."

Expanding reach

Carlin, Goodband, and Wilson said the next executive director needs to expand the organization's reach, locally, regionally, and nationally.

“Landmark Trust wants to be Landmark Trust USA, not Landmark Trust Dummerston,” said Wilson, who noted the only property the organization manages outside of Dummerston is the Amos Brown House in Whitingham.

“Ultimately, our organization would like to have properties all over New England, and beyond,” said Wilson, “but our leadership needs a different skill-set to realize that larger mission.”

Carlin noted the nonprofit is currently “top-heavy” in its administration, and adding new properties will increase revenue without requiring a proportional increase in administrative staffing.

The next executive director doesn't necessarily have to live in or near Dummerston.

“They can work remotely and come here periodically,” Carlin said. “We don't want to limit the search parameters. This is a wonderful place to live, but maybe [the next executive director] already has a wonderful place to live.”

Plus, she pointed out, for Landmark Trust USA to expand, it needs to look beyond Vermont.

In addition to her managerial duties, Carlin serves as the secretary of the Trust's board of directors and is a non-voting member.

Although neither Carlin nor Goodband can vote on board decisions, they both said the board includes them in meetings and asks for their feedback and what support they need to keep the farm running smoothly.

The board has also included them in the search for a new executive director.

“The person heading the search talked to us for about an hour each,” said Goodband, who noted “us” included every employee of the Trust and Scott Farm, including housekeepers, maintenance people, and part-time farm market workers.

Critical chemistry

Goodband said he expects the search committee will continue to include him and other staff in the process. “I think the board recognizes that for a person to be successful [as executive director], they have to work closely with us, and there's got to be some chemistry,” he added.

Carlin and Goodband expressed their hope for continued autonomy under the new executive director.

“We have a lot of freedom,” said Carlin, who noted Scott Farm has “really been successful. We've put ourselves on the map. The board trusts us."

“They don't really need to know the farm,” Carlin said of the next executive director. “They need to understand that it works, and that we've got that covered,” Goodband added.

“Landmark Trust could be a tremendous resource to the community,” said Goodband, who noted the workshops, events, and restored buildings bring visitors to the area. “They come and buy books, apples, maple syrup ... It would be great to have someone in that leadership role who can do fundraising and outreach into the community, and who can work well with people [in general], and donors,” he said.

Carlin believes Landmark Trust can “make a difference nationally, like Landmark UK has done across Europe to restore significant buildings.”

Unlike its European counterpart, Landmark Trust USA can't rely on federal funding for this work, “because in this country, there is none for most little towns, other than historical societies,” she said, which often rely on private donations.

“We get calls all the time,” Carlin said, from people asking how to restore a historic building for short-stay rental. She noted that some of those queries are about buildings on agricultural land.

“The next generation doesn't want to farm,” she said, “so what will happen to those old farms and plantations?"

Building a capital reserve

Wilson said the board is also “frequently approached by people elsewhere who don't know what to do with their buildings.”

Oftentimes, he said, the family or another entity turns the historic buildings into museums, but, he noted, “a $10 admission doesn't cover the costs, especially without an endowment."

The Landmark Trust model of short-term rentals is a better solution, Wilson said, “but we need a capital reserve for restoration, and for bringing a property up to modern rental standards. For example, is there indoor plumbing?"

Naulakha, Wilson noted, was unusual for a late-1800s home: it had indoor plumbing. “State-of-the-art for its time,” he said, and one of the first homes in the area to have that amenity. When Landmark Trust restored the house, “we wanted to preserve the original plumbing,” he said.

“The board of directors really sees that Landmark Trust is in a good place. It's established the vacation-rentals model works, and it's a good model,” said Wilson. “It could be an interesting vacation entity nationwide. It makes it possible for the average person to experience our history. That's why I serve on that board. I think we're going to go great places."

“Landmark Trust is doing okay. The farm is doing great,” Carlin said. “If we could find a leader for Landmark that's as passionate as Zeke is about the farm, there's no stopping us. That would be huge."

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