By Gwenn Garland
Jack Luetkemeyer and Tim Mullan had a vision of honoring their fathers’ dedication to the Delmarva heritage of duck hunting on the Chesapeake. They remembered vividly the excitement of being boys invited to finally come along with the men on one of these expeditions.
“The times we spent with our fathers and their friends duck hunting on the Eastern Shore were transformative for us,” Jack Luetkemeyer remembered. “As Timmy and I broke the ice with our fathers to put out the decoys we never felt the cold, only the anticipation of the upcoming day. It was pure joy to see the diving ducks knot up and come into the decoys.”
He and his friend Tim learned about the traditions of the watermen, people who made their living from nature. They were motivated to help bring this tradition to generations to come, through the new building named for their fathers: the John A. Luetkemeyer Sr. & Thomas F. Mullan Jr. Legacy Center at the Ward Museum of Wildfowl Art, Salisbury University in Salisbury.
The building has wide windows that open onto the Ward Museum’s nature trails and sculpture garden on the shore of Schumaker Pond. Its opening was part of a wider renewal at the museum, said Lora Bottinelli, Executive Director of the Ward Museum, a part of Salisbury University.
“Our Henson Educational Center, gallery spaces and collection management system have also been renovated and updated,” she said. “It’s not only a renewal – it’s a commitment to our goals.” Education is a vital part of the museum’s mission, Bottinelli said. “Education helps us connect art, nature and tradition.”
The new Legacy Center took the place of an outdoor pavilion that was destroyed in a violent storm in March 2014. The outdoor pavilion had been a useful space, but with the unpredictability of the weather, educational programs always had to have a backup plan.
So in the summer of 2014, the Ward Foundation Board of Directors voted to move forward with a plan to create the new indoor classroom space. Additional classroom space had been included in the original 1990 design for the museum by Davis, Bowen and Friedel, but set aside for cost. Now the time was right to make the building happen.
A capital campaign and funding from the state helped to bring the building to fruition. Now up to 250 people can gather in the nature-nestled space for educational lectures, field trips and more.
The Ward Museum’s upcoming Art in Nature Photo Festival will show off the new center’s capabilities as acclaimed photographer Jay Fleming showcases and discuses “Wildlife PHotography Along the Chesapeake Bay” as the festival’s kaynote speaker on August 11 from 6-9 p.m. The event is free for Ward Museum members and $5 for others.
Other opportunities to see the new building include the Chesapeake Wildfowl Expo on October 13-14, when exhibitors of vintage decoys will use the space. On October 21, the Ward Museum will host a fundraising dinner – Party on the Pond– that will showcase the Legacy Center as a banquet venue. The event also gives people the chance to help support the mission of the museum and its educational and outreach activities.
Bottinelli anticipates the center being a popular setting for not only museum programs but the community as well. “It’s a private area in a beautiful setting,” she said, “and it will be a wonderful place to hold a party, conference or gathering.” A commercial kitchen will come online in the fall, increasing catering options for both Ward Museum and outside events.
Education will continue to be the primary focus of the building. In the words of Jack Luetkemeyer, “The purpose of this gift is for our fathers, not only to thank them for making such a memorable experience possible for us, but as a legacy for the fathers and sons who come after us who will discover the same love for the Chesapeake Bay and the thrill of the hunt that we found.”