New director for historical society

Published 10:03 pm Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Nikki Lorenzen is the new executive director of the Suffolk Nansemond Historical Society. She is pictured in the society’s headquarters, the Phillips-Dawson House on Bank Street.

Nikki Lorenzen is the new executive director of the Suffolk Nansemond Historical Society. She is pictured in the society’s headquarters, the Phillips-Dawson House on Bank Street.

The Suffolk-Nansemond Historical Society has a new executive director who’s dedicated to engaging the public, getting participation from younger people and making the society’s resources more user-friendly.

Nikki Lorenzen, 27, is the first paid executive director of the society. Prior to her start in September, the society had been run by volunteers and a paid administrative assistant.

From California originally, Lorenzen’s parents retired to Williamsburg, which also brought her to the area after she completed her studies in anthropology and museum studies.

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Lorenzen said she became interested in museum work after majoring in anthropology and thinking about where she could find a job in that field.

“The whole Indiana Jones thing didn’t work out,” she joked. She found that museum work could be a good way to use her education and still earn a paycheck.

“It sounded like an interesting challenge,” Lorenzen said of the Suffolk job. “It’s a small town with lots of deep-rooted history.”

Lorenzen said she has enjoyed learning about Suffolk history, especially its connection to peanuts.

“I really didn’t know that we had so much to do with peanuts and the peanut industry,” she said. She’s also enjoyed learning “how many families in the area have truly been here since the birth of the nation,” she said.

One of her main jobs is to make the society’s collections more accessible to the public, she said. The Phillips-Dawson House at 137 Bank St., the society’s headquarters, is in the midst of renovations to make spaces that are more convenient for the public and researchers to view the collection.

“We’re fortunate in that we have a wide variety of collection items,” Lorenzen said. The collection ranges from photos and sales ledgers from local businesses all the way to linens.

“We have a little bit of everything,” she said. “We are unfortunate in that we don’t have a lot of very old things,” due to the destruction of Suffolk and Nansemond County courthouses by fire in the past. “We do have bits and pieces here and there that we’ve been able to amass.”

Another goal of Lorenzen’s is trying to engage more with the community, especially through social media. The society’s Facebook and Twitter feeds have become a lot more active since Lorenzen came on board, and they have been able to identify unknown people in photos through social media.

“We’re redesigning our website to be a little bit more user-friendly,” Lorenzen added. The updated website can be viewed at

But the society is reaching out through in-person activities, too, particularly to young people. A Girl Scout patch is in the process of getting approved, and an event coming up later this month at the Suffolk Seaboard Station Railroad Museum is geared toward children.

“If you don’t cultivate younger participation, you run the risk of disappearing,” Lorenzen said, though she added she doesn’t think the historical society is in danger of that. “It is good to have young people come in and come up with new ideas.”

The June 20 event, “Hands-On History,” will take place at the station, 326 N. Main St., from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Historical objects will be on display and demonstrations of Morse code, folk songs and lantern signals will take place. Tours of the historical caboose on site also will take place. The event is free, but a $2 donation is suggested.

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