New Heritage Alliance Executive Director Anne G’Fellers-Mason stands beside a Chester Inn exibit of Julia Bullard Nelson, a favorite historical figure of Mason’s. (Photo by Lisa Whaley)

By LISA WHALEY

Publisher

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When Anne G-Fellers-Mason got the call to meet with the Heritage Alliance hiring committee, she was sure she knew what to expect — a detailed interview designed to gauge her qualifications for the then-vacant executive director position.

What she found instead, was the offer to lead the local nonprofit organization she had grown to love.

“Gordon (Edwards, Heritage Alliance Board of Trustees president) told me we were going to meet at the Corner Cup,” Mason said, who had submitted her application for the position in early November. “I was a little nervous, because I did think it was an interview. I always approached it with (the idea that) if someone applies who is better for the Heritage Alliance, then that person should be the one hired.”

But in the place of the slew of questions Mason had been expecting, she said, she was greeted with this:

“We have one question for you. Do you want the job?”

Her answer was an unequivocal “Yes!”

Mason had been filling in as director for the Heritage Alliance for some time already, first when then-executive director Deborah Montanti had taken time off for knee surgery, and then when Montanti decided it was time for her to retire, with Mason officially donning the title of acting director while they searched for a replacement.

“It’s been something I’ve been thinking of doing for maybe a year now,” Montanti said when news of her retirement broke in September. “I went out on medical leave, and while I was out, it became really clear that Anne was ready.”

Mason has been with the Alliance since 2008, when she came on board as a graduate student. A graduate of East Tennessee State University with master’s degrees in art and history, she felt so lucky to have found an organization that merged her two passions into one fascinating package.

For Mason, history has always been about “stories of ordinary people who did extraordinary things.” Her ability to present that history as a story for new audiences brought her to the attention of the board almost immediately.

As the Alliance’s special projects coordinator — her title before Montanti’s exit — she has drawn on her skills as a playwright to provide the town with such glimpses into the past as “Spot on the Hill” and “Voices of the Chester.”

“Our museum theater is one of the favorite things I do,” said Mason, who also has a master’s degree in theatre from Hollis University. “Being able to hear the history in that way and being able to make connections — you see it on the faces of the audience. It really makes the past not so foreign.”

Mason has also played a strong role in helping fulfill the Alliance’s main goal —to preserve the architectural, historical, and cultural heritage of the region — through education.

“She has well-earned (the position,)” said Edwards, who added that while they had several qualified applicants submit, Mason continued to stand out and was the unanimous choice. “Some of the work that Anne has already been doing, just walking into the schools just a little bit more, has been so important. The door has been opened and we’re pointed forward and upward for the next generation.”

“I’m excited about programs that I can’t even imagine that may come out of this.”

As for Mason, she is already planning the future. Even though she was working  as acting director, “It does feel different now,” she said. “Now it’s mine. I’m really excited and honored. Also slightly terrified.

“I’m filling in big shoes,” she continued, referencing Montanti and the important role she has played in the formation of the Heritage Alliance. “But I’m eager to continue that legacy.”

That legacy includes continuing the Alliance’s many programs, as well as broadening the organization’s impact.

“I want us to continue to grow, to grow our outreach into the community and to increase our programing for all ages,” Mason said. “I’m excited for the future and eager to do right by the community as we go on this adventure together.”