In anticipation of our upcoming member celebration at the Henry Overholser Mansion Carriage House, we wanted to feature a fellow YNPN of OKC member, Cayla Lewis. Cayla is the Executive Director of Preservation Oklahoma, and one of her responsibilities is oversight and maintenance of the Henry Overholser Mansion.
Thank you, Cayla, for joining us for a Q&A, and thank you to the Mansion for hosting our member celebration on March 28 at 5:30!
What is Preservation Oklahoma, and what is its mission?
Preservation Oklahoma is the state’s only private, nonprofit membership organization dedicated to promoting, supporting and coordinating historic preservation activities throughout the state. The mission of POK is to promote the places where Oklahoma history lives.
Do you have a favorite historic place in Oklahoma? If so, what?
This is a good question! I am from Yukon, Oklahoma and the first place that I ever remember thinking, "it would be such a bummer if they tore this down!" was Yukon Flour Mill, right off Main Street, also along Route 66. I also remember seeing the "YUKON'S BEST FLOUR" sign lit up at night. In 2013, the town was able to raise $175,000 to get the lights restored, which is very exciting! I also now understand the importance of what it means to be a part of Route 66 and part of a thriving Main Street, having a beacon like the Flour Mill brings a lot of character to the town - not to mention, it's how Yukon got their mascot name, the Millers! There's also a lot of history with Yukon's Czech Hall, but the Flour Mill gives me the sense of coming home.
If you got to travel back to any time period, which would you choose, and why?
I would have liked to be young enough to appreciate (and probably get a little wild to) The Ramones in the 1970's, gradually chill out and fade into being old enough to bury myself into The Smith's music in the 1980's. It also would have been cool to be around during the Surrealist and Dadaist movements in the 1920's or so, although I'm not sure I would have liked to have a short bob haircut like the flapper girls, just not my style.
Who is your role model, and why?
I look up to a lot of people and admire, respect, and am inspired by so many people. It's easier for me to equate a "role model" with someone I can talk to and know personally. While I know Oprah is great and all, I can't call her when I'm struggling for advice. The main traits of role models I have are kindness, authenticity, strong work ethic, and creativity. I have to say, the majority of role models I can think of are all women. Go women!
What skill do you think is most essential for an Executive Director of a nonprofit organization?
The skill most essential for an Executive Director, and really for a human in general, is just being tactful. Everyone you meet is a potential donor, partner, or advocate for your organization, and overall, it's best to not make enemies or burn bridges. You also may or may not be in the same position forever, and keeping positive connections over the span of your professional life can prove to be invaluable. Sometimes things may get tricky or even controversial, but maintaining a level-head and still being thoughtful and considerate with your actions is important.
What is your favorite part of the Henry Overholser Mansion being your office?
POK offices are actually in the Carriage House of the Overholser Mansion, which used to be an old barn. We're currently campaigning to raise funds for renovations to the Carriage House, so my favorite part of this building is all the change and growth that has taken place! It has been a joy for me to be a part of this process. Once the renovations are complete, we'll also be installing new exhibits, so to think that everyday I get to walk into part of a museum is awesome in itself. Overholser Mansion tours are led by our Museum Coordinator, Lisa Escalon, but I do peek into the house a few times a month. I always find something new and beautiful in the mansion, it truly is a step back in time and houses so many fantastic objects from the family.
Rumor says the Henry Overholser Mansion is haunted. Can you confirm, and if so, what’s your favorite ghost story about the Mansion?
When doing our Carriage House renovations, we had some people working on the floors for several days. After they completed the job, I got a call that said, "okay, this may be kinda weird or silly but... do people ever tell you they... see things ... feel things?"
The answer is yes, quite regularly. However, my response was, "congratulations!" because in over a year of working here, I have next to zero personal stories to tell. I did get "indoctrinated" of sorts the second day I was here, when we had a paranormal investigator with some "ghost hunting" tools. Multiple things that day made my skin crawl, and I still don't love being in the mansion or Carriage House by myself. All that to say, they're just friendly, busy people roaming around their home - we just made sure it looks nice for them!