Ontario County Historical Society executive director takes new job; search for replacement underway

CANANDAIGUA, NY — Cody Grabhorn can describe his nearly three-year term as executive director of the Ontario County Historical Society in two words. 

“My time here was, simply put, fulfilling and an honor,” Grabhorn said. “I feel very lucky to have a community like Ontario County, and all the local communities around here, really get behind my ideas and help me to move the Historical Society in a direction that aligns it with other professional museums and takes it into the future.” 

Grabhorn, a Minnesota native who took over the job June 1, 2021, has accepted an offer to be the director of the Mining and Rollo Jamison Museum in Wisconsin, which takes him closer to his family in the Midwest. He leaves at the end of March. 

“Family is really kind of the big thing,” Grabhorn said.

Grabhorn succeeded former executive director Marci Diehl and Ed Varno, who retired in 2020 after 25 years of service. 

Who will be the next Ontario County Historical Society executive director? 

A national search is underway for a new executive director. 

Chris Hubler, president of the society’s board of directors, said in a statement that Grabhorn will be missed. 

“We are happy and sad to see Cody go but understand the opportunity,” Hubler stated. “In Cody’s few years with our organization, he has done a tremendous job making the museum more relevant in our community.” 

The job ad will be listed on the Museum Association of New York job board and other regional and national museum association websites. 

Recent Ontario County Historical Society accomplishments

Shortly after taking over, Grabhorn and museum staff were tasked with building community participation in museum programs to prepandemic levels as well as rebuilding membership and improving communication with members.

The museum team identified children, young adult and adult audiences and worked at targeting programs to each that go beyond typical museum programming. 

For example, History Mystery Traveling kits created educational and hands-on opportunities for school-age children, and vinyl record and trivia nights did the same for young adults. 

Also, traditional lectures were revamped by establishing a virtual speaker series to enhance rotating exhibits hosted at the society’s museum.

A big hit of late, walking history tours seem to have taken off — the plan is to continue to have different tour themes in spring and fall — which help to expose more of the collection in different ways. 

The interactive event “She Speaks” will be Grabhorn’s last event, on March 21, to mark Women’s History Month. In it, documents either written by women or have women featured in them will be read by staff members and volunteers to bring more of their voices in the collection to the public, Grabhorn said. 

All are examples of trying to provide a fresh, new perspective and angle on local history, Grabhorn said. 

“These are all thngs you see popping up in the museum field right now, whether it be larger museums, but you also have a lot of smaller organizations like ours that are pivoting toward this type of programming,” Grabhorn said. 

Grabhorn said he is thankful for having had the opportunity to lead the organization and to help build the staffing capacity that is needed for the future success of the museum.  

As for many of his and the board’s goals, consider them mission accomplished, in part thanks to the people in the area who threw their support behind him. 

“Thank you for trusting me with your history and giving me that opportunity,” Grabhorn said. “Your passion and love for the Historical Society is what sparked success during my time as executive director and with you in the community, I know there will always be success at OCHS.” 

Mike Murphy covers Canandaigua and other communities in Ontario County and writes the Eat, Drink and Be Murphy food and drink column. Follow him on X at @MPN_MikeMurphy.  

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