BY TOM DALTON
---- — SALEM — Anita Blackaby is stepping down after nearly five years as executive director of The House of The Seven Gables, a national landmark and one of the city’s major tourist attractions.
Blackaby, 60, said she is leaving to devote more time to a longtime avocation.
“I love quilting,” she said. “I’ve been quilting for a number of years and I have a really great idea for a book. I really want to do that.”
During Blackaby’s tenure, the Gables underwent a major transition. It ended a long tradition of providing direct services to the city’s immigrant poor through pre-school, after-school and other programs. It decided it could better fulfill its mission of serving new arrivals and the disadvantaged by partnering with other organizations in the city.
The move allowed the Gables to focus more on middle school and high school students, many from The Point, a largely Latino neighborhood, by offering English language, college preparatory and other programs.
This year, the Essex National Heritage Commission acknowledged the Gables’ work with a Pioneer Partnership Award for its role in a Caribbean Connections program in which immigrant children from Salem researched historical connections between this region and their homeland.
Through a partnership with the public schools, the Gables now hosts a major educational program. Its old settlement house is the home of Salem Prep, an alternative high school.
Under Blackaby, the Gables put considerable time and money into preserving its sprawling waterfront property, which includes the house Nathaniel Hawthorne immortalized and other historic properties.
“I think we’ve done a huge amount to really get the garden and the property back in shape,” Blackaby said.
The site recently received a $150,000 matching grant to do deferred maintenance.
“The board of trustees is grateful for the service that Anita Blackaby has rendered to The Seven Gables and for her accomplishments in advancing the mission of the organization,” board President Andrew Meyers said in a statement. “During Anita’s tenure, she has provided creative leadership that forms a solid foundation for our future.”
Before coming to Salem in 2008, Blackaby was director of The State Museum of Pennsylvania. She has spent more than 30 years in the museum field.
Blackaby’s resignation becomes official on Jan. 11.
Tom Dalton can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.