Posted on September 11, 2020
By Marvin Richards
El Dorado News-Times
The South Arkansas Historical Preservation Society recently announced that Steve Biernacki will act as the organization’s new Executive Director.
Biernacki has over 25 years of experience working with nonprofit organizations, including the Professional Golfers Association (PGA). He’s even owned and operated his own line of Sonic Drive-In restaurants.
But it is his love of history that has brought him to El Dorado and SAHPS, a love he discovered at the tender age of 11.
“Every summer, I would jump on an Amtrak train and go see my grandparents in Del Rio, Texas. And they would take me to the Alamo museum,” Biernacki said. “I was blown away. The fort was still there and preserved and the stories were still there. It told you the U.S. side of things and the Mexico side of things and as a storyteller, that’s important.” Having an all encompassing experience and telling of history is a part of the vision Steve Biernacki wants to impart on the community during his tenure as executive director.
“When we talk about different historical events like the Civil War, Reconstruction and the Civil Rights movement, I want to make sure we’re well represented from people of all races, ages and genders. That will enrich the stories that we’re going to tell and include everyone who has made an impact or have been impacted throughout our history,” Biernacki explained.
Making sure to present a fair and comprehensive history is important to him because he has found through his work that sometimes, how a story is told can leave some people feeling like they are not a part, when in reality they are.
“I’m always going to be looking for both sides of the story. Because that’s the only way I will be able to learn what actually happened,” Biernacki said. “We bicker about ‘Black and white,’ who’s right and who’s wrong. History is not there to be right or wrong, history is there to be learned from so we don’t repeat the same mistakes.” And to start that process of having more representation in the stories told, Biernacki revealed to the News-Times that the South Arkansas Historical Preservation Society is going to do something it has not done in a long time, and Biernacki suspects may have never been done: host an upcoming Black History Month event in 2021.
“We have to reach out to our entire community. I think when we turn a blind eye to any part of our community, we are doing our community and ourselves a disservice. And I would hate for the museum to be viewed as a museum for certain people or for certain histories,” Biernacki said.
“When I see that our mayor is the first African-American female mayor in El Dorado history, when I see the high school ratio is 60-40 Black to white, when I see my brothers and sisters all around town but don’t see their faces in the museum, that concerns me, ” Biernacki added.
The Black History Month event will be a part of a much larger new look and rollout for SAHPS as part of their COVID relaunch. Biernacki doesn’t want history to be static for members and visitors. He wants it to be engaging and to do that, he wants to modernize how visitors interact with the rich history of South Arkansas.
“Right now we have the gallery of history, a picture gallery. Well we are going to change that into an experience. It is going to be very interactive, it is going to be eye popping. And it is going to tell a story from beginning to end,” Biernacki explained. “From the moment you walk in the front door, we want to walk you through every decade of history and tell the stories of those decades.” Biernacki estimates that it will take between eight and 10 weeks to bring this new visitor experience to life and is hoping to be ready for an opening by Thanksgiving.
Biernacki said he is looking forward to steadily getting to know the El Dorado community and wants to immerse himself in the beautiful outdoor surroundings given that Arkansas is the ‘Natural State.’ But it is his love of history that he hopes will allow him to bring out the inner child in adults and stoke a passion in current children when it comes to our history; and with his vision to make our stories interactive and something to engage with, he’s ready to do bring in a new era at the South Arkansas Historical Preservation Society.