Conner Prairie taps successor to longtime CEO

Conner Prairie has hired a successor to Ellen Rosenthal, who retired Jan. 4 after a dozen years as president and CEO of the interactive history park in Fishers.

Norman O. Burns II, who has almost three decades of experience in leadership at historical attractions, will take the Conner Prairie position Jan. 27, the museum announced Monday morning.

norman burns mugNorman Burns

Burns comes to Conner Prairie from Richmond, Virginia, where he has spent almost a decade as executive director of the Maymont Foundation, which oversees and funds the 130-year-old estate built by Richmond philanthropists James Henry Dooley and Sallie May Dooley.

The 100-acre Maymont property includes historical buildings, gardens and animal experiences, and draws 500,000 visitors annually. Conner Prairie officials said Burns worked with a 45-member board of directors, led the executive staff and played a critical role in raising more than $21 million of a multi-year $35 million capital and endowment campaign.

Prior to Maymont, Burns was executive director of four Tennessee museums from 1987 to 2001: Belle Meade Plantation, Chattanooga Regional History Museum, Rocky Mount Museum and Sam Davis Historical Site and Museum.

Jay Ricker, chairman of Conner Prairie’s board of directors and chairman of Ricker Oil Co., said Burns emerged as the best available candidate following a national search.

“At the onset of our search, we established several critical priorities that the next president and CEO must meet and we unanimously believe that Norman Burns exceeds those criteria,” Ricker said in written remarks. “He considers himself first and foremost a historian and educator, and has observed Conner Prairie for years. We look forward to his leadership, expertise and creativity to help guide Conner Prairie’s future.”

Burns received a bachelor’s degree and master’s degree in history from Middle Tennessee State University in Murfreesboro, Tenn. He and wife, Sandy, have three grown sons.

Conner Prairie did not say how much Burns would be paid. Rosenthal was paid $200,015 in 2013, according to public documents.

The 850-acre Conner Prairie park, founded by Eli Lilly in 1934, draws more than 360,000 visitors annually. It has more than 400 employees and an annual operating budget of nearly $12 million.

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