CLEARFIELD — Clearfield resident Timothy Harley recently wrapped a 15-year career as executive director of the Jimmy Stewart Museum.
The museum, located in Indiana Borough, highlights Stewart’s radio, television and film career along with his military service and the early years of life in the town located in Indiana County. It is located at 835 Philadelphia St., Indiana.
Harley said in 2001, while he was serving as the executive director of the Irish American Museum in Albany, N.Y., his father experienced health problems and he decided to return to Clearfield to help care for him. “I wanted to come back and spend time with my Dad and my family,” he said.
After working for several years as a substitute instructor for the Clearfield Area School District and the DuBois Business College, he saw an advertisement for the museum’s director position and decided to apply. “Although I thought I was needed at home and was coming home to stay, my father had a wonderful recovery and I was looking for something to fill more of my time.”
He was hired and began working there in June of 2004. Harley said, at first, his acceptance of the position came with reservations since his duties differed from earlier positions he held at various museums at locations throughout New York.
“My concern was being the director of a personality-based museum when my love is historic architecture. While I love and collected old movies, a museum dedicated to a star baffled me,” he explained. That attitude was quickly reversed once he became immersed in his job and saw how Stewart was revered even by those who are too young to have known him personally.
“It was very interesting and amazing thing in how people had a way of disassociating Mr. Jimmy Stewart and the actor. In most of his movies, he played an admirable person and that was reflected in the life he lived. The measure of weight he had on people’s lives overwhelmed me,” Harley said.
He said the museum then and today continues to be the largest-drawing single site tourist attraction however when he became executive director, the museum’s attendance was starting to experience a downturn as Stewart’s fanbase grew older, affecting its bottom line.
Harley said, as the museum’s overseer, it was vital to the site’s future existence, to find way to sustain funding and find opportunities to make the museum’s story more accessible.
He said while some of the museum’s board of directors were reluctant at first to announce financial difficulties, they soon were agreeable. Harley said the first break was securing an interview about the museum and the hardships it was facing with MSNBC. The story appeared on both the Today Show and the Nightly News. “That started a flood of donations and got the ball rolling,” he explained.
Other interviews with prominent publications were also helpful in allowing the museum to be maintained for future generations. “We put the museum on track so that it can continue,” Harley explained.
Harley said, also during his tenure, he was able to create a new display of existing items along with acquiring new photographs and memorabilia from his career.
He said Stewart had a long and successful career starting supporting movie roles and quickly becoming the lead during the 1950s in films such as “Harvey” and “Bell, Book and Candle” and “The Man Who Knew Too Much.”
Stewart’s final film role was to provide the voice of Wylie Burp in the 1991 animated movie “American Tail: Fievel Goes West.”
He said the museum is a “must see” for any Jimmy Stewart fan and for anyone who wants to be immersed in the life and career of one of the commonwealth’s notable residents. “I encourage anyone who is interested in Mr. Stewart to do. It’s an easy day trip from here.”
Harley said one of his favorite things to do while he was the museum’s executive director was to leaf through the attraction’s guest books. “The comments were so moving like “bucket list.” Stewart’s fans left such beautiful sincere feelings.”
Harley said he had been contemplating his retirement for several years before he actually tendered his resignation. The decision to withdraw from the position was difficult. “I loved my wonderful work family and I had a very supportive board but in time I came to the decision that it was time to retire. It was important to the museum’s continuation that it have a new vision and I trusted the board to find someone who could sustain this wonderful community asset.”
Harley said, approximately two months into his retirement, he has been enjoying spending time with his family. He said he has two siblings who reside in Clearfield along with a niece and her family. He also has a sister that lives in Hershey.
He has also been spending time on another of his interests –painting. He has been painting images of downtown Clearfield using watercolors and acrylics.