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Superintendent Secrets To Success

The key to the success of Sagamore Hill National Park Site Superintendent Thomas Ross could be in his comment to staff members at his farewell party.

“I’m not a perfectionist. I’m just particular. There’s a difference,” he said as he responded to kidding by staffers, volunteers and friends on Aug. 23, in the picnic area behind the Visitor Center.

The party to say “so long” to the Rosses of Sagamore Hill started with staffers and grew to include the volunteers and members of the Friends of Sagamore Hill. Everyone wanted to say good-bye to Thomas Ross, wife Kerrie and sons Cameron and Nate after more than five years of being residents of Sagamore Hill.

The young family is looking forward to the move, where Ross will be the superintendent of the Thomas Edison and Morristown National Historic Parks in New Jersey. They have visited the historic house that will be their home and Kerrie is looking forward to having room to display her books, art, sculpture and ceramic collections, many of which she bought when she was an art gallery manager.

Newsletter Editor

Taking photographs at the farewell party was Milton Elis, the editor of the Rough Writer, the newsletter for the volunteers at Sagamore Hill and chair of the volunteer advisory board. He said he will suffer a difficult loss. Under Ross he was the assistant superintendent and now he is “back to square one.” He wished the family well, in taking another step up the ladder of success. As a volunteer, Elis gives tours of the house (now closed for renovations) and helps with curatorial chores: dusting the walls, washing dishes, and working in the archives collections.

There were several speeches that afternoon. Eric Witzke, now SHNHS acting superintendent, said in his original job as chief of maintenance, he thanked Ross for his legacy to Sagamore Hill, for the work done during his tenure on the house and on the outbuildings and making a theater in the barn shed to replace the old one in the Old Orchard Museum. He credited Tom’s bringing the site forward for the next 50 years, which will be the Ross legacy at SHNHS.

Curator Amy Verone had fun chiding Ross on his “pathological fondness of signs,” versus her “pathological hatred of signs.” He also changed her title, from Curator to Chief of Cultural Resources, but she said, “No blood has been shed,” and Sagamore Hill has benefited. The Roosevelt home was in need of care, the barns needed painting, the Old Orchard Museum needed exterior work and with 86 other regional parks, looking for money, she credited Tom’s “persistent personality” in making calls and speaking to friends in the regional office as the key to his success. “It was very close to not happening,” she said. “He got this program over the finish line.” She said she and the staff appreciate his work, “more than you can know.” This was a reoccurring theme as people showed their deep love and commitment to Sagamore Hill.

Administrative Success

As an administrator himself, Brother Lawrence Syriac (of Chaminade High School) FOSH president, said he appreciated Tom’s willingness to listen to others and “To tell you when you were wrong,” even though the two Bostonians root for different teams, the Red Sox and the Braves. Syriac also verbalized what others were thinking, saying, “The site will miss him. I appreciate the person who will fill his shoes. They have to keep the ball rolling.” After 55 years of teaching he said he realizes you need a leader whose job includes reaching into the community and reaching up to the hierarchy. “So all the volunteers and FOSH and the turkeys [they were speaking up at the moment] will give their full support to the new superintendent.”

Being a park ranger under Tom gave Josh Reyes, volunteer coordinator, some great opportunities he said, including meeting President George Bush and First Lady Laura Bush and Kerrie Bellisario Ross. He presented Kerrie with a gift certificate to use at Glassworks in New Jersey, for crafting classes for she and their sons to help them become involved in their new hometown.

Party organizer Julia Abbate, SHNHP administrative assistant, thanked Ross for his help, guidance and enthusiasm saying his positive attitude is contagious. “I was never bored, and embraced every aspect of Sagamore Hill.”

Howard Ehlich, who was an interim leader of the Theodore Roosevelt Association shared a private joke with the staff and Tom on how they faced a visitation overload.

Volunteer Adam Sakowitz thanked Tom for accompanying he and his dad when they went to Washington, D.C. to accept an award he won aimed at young people in the future of the National Park Service.

Eric Witzke thanked Ross for their good working relationship as he presented him with a gift card for Home Depot to buy his own lawn equipment for their new home.

Superintendent Ross thanked people with “the two most important words: thank you, from the bottom of my heart.” He said the accolades he received for the work accomplished at SHNHS was “not a one-man show. I am proud of what we have done. When I signed up for the NPS, it is about service. I believe in public service for cities, towns and non-profits. It’s about service.” He credited the work of those who came during the years before him for setting the course for the accomplishments of his time there.