President’s 2012 State of the Society Message

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Fellow NYCSHS Members:

Some of you may recall the Cadillac automobile commercials of a few years ago that stated that one of the company’s latest models was “not your father’s Cadillac.” While neither my father nor I ever owned a Cadillac, the message seemed clear enough to me: Cadillac sought to change its image. Likewise, when I assumed the presidency of the New York Central System Historical Society in May of 2011, I sought to change its image. Borrowing from the Cadillac commercial, I promised the directors that if I were elected, the Society “would not be your father’s Society.” 

With the support of our directors and with the help of many of our members, we have begun to accomplish that which I promised. In this message, I wish to summarize some of the ways that your Society is now not what many of us remember.

The most important transformation is the most recent. A new Code of Regulations (By-Laws) now governs the operation of the Society. The previous Code, which was written more than forty years ago, contained Draconian provisions that could have brought about the dissolution of the Society. The new By-Laws correct these flaws and streamline and update other clauses that were antiquated and inappropriate for the Society as it exists today, and as it is expected to grow. We are indebted to members James Yaworsky, Walter Bayer, and Frank Bongiovanni; and Director Sheldon Lustig, who worked as a team to make the new By-Laws a reality. Transparency and simplicity were their watchwords. In keeping with your directors’ desire to provide greater member involvement in the workings of the Society, the document provides new opportunities for members in good standing to be informed of, and to vote on and approve, important issues affecting the health of the Society. The By-Laws and our Articles of Incorporation have been posted on our NYCSHS members-only e-mail discussion list.

As a modeler of the New York Central scene for over fifty years, I was well aware of the fact that the Society’s image with modelers and with model manufacturers was overdue for a major makeover. To get the transformation ball rolling, I asked newly-appointed director Noel Widdifield to edit an electronic magazine whose focus would be on modeling our favorite railroad. Noel came through when he published the first edition of the NYCentral Modeler in August of 2011, only three months after my request. And what a response it got! Modelers ate up the magazine’s 46 pages like a Niagara eating up miles with the 20th Century Limited. And Noel has since given modelers much more, with editions appearing in October and January, and with one due out in April. The establishment of the Modelers Committee was another effort to meet the needs of the modeling community. With member Pat Livingston at the throttle and with Director Noel Widdifield keeping steam up to the pop, the committee is seeking new ways to add to the enjoyment of all who model the New York Central. Working with model manufacturers and importers to produce accurate models in a variety of scales using the Society’s drawing and photograph collections is high on the committee’s agenda.

Recognizing a concern often expressed by many members, the Board of Directors has implemented programs to improve communications within the Society. Our expanded website, www.nycshs.org; our members-only e-mail discussion list; our MailChimp mass communications tool; and the establishment of two informal, regional NYCSHS Divisions have all contributed to this effort. At the management level, your directors have been holding monthly teleconferences to address the Society’s needs in a timely manner, and I have been submitting monthly president’s reports to all directors.

Among the most notable accomplishments of late 2011 was the Society’s ability to accept payments for memberships, both new and renewal, through PayPal. Owing to the difficulties of currency exchange, this has been especially helpful to our members who reside outside the United States. Members will be pleased to learn that we will soon be expanding this service to include purchases of the books, calendars, Central Headlight back issues, and all other items offered by the Society for sale. It will also be available for future annual meeting registrations.

After years of chaos and abuse, the collections in your Society’s archives are now properly cared for in a facility and in a manner appropriate for their protection. We owe Director Chuck Beargie and the Archives Committee thanks for the hard work they have done thus far in moving, protecting, and cataloging our holdings. A more detailed report on the activities of the Archives Committee will follow.

Our digitized drawing program, which makes NYCS engineering drawings available to members and the general public, has become very popular. The program, administered by Director Tom Gerbracht, provided a total of 70 CD’s to modelers and others in 2011, grossing $3,405 for the Society. It is especially popular with persons building live steam locomotives.

The Society’s quarterly magazine, Central Headlight, was kept on schedule throughout 2011, with issues being mailed to members in good standing in early February, May, August, and November. It is unfortunate that the USPS dragged its feet getting the 4th Quarter (November) issue to many members; a few were never delivered, and we mailed second copies to those members who informed us of the failure. The 1st Quarter 2012 issue fared much better, and the 2nd Quarter 2012 issue will be mailed on time early in May.

You will find your 2012 membership card included with the mailing of the 2nd Quarter Central Headlight. I think you will find the appearance of the 2012 card to be a welcome change. You will still need to fill in your own name and membership number, as individual printing of approximately 1,300 cards would have been prohibitively expensive.

While we added 87 new members to our ranks between November 1, 2010 and November 1, 2011, our November 1, 2011 membership total of 1,305 members was significantly lower than our November 1, 2010 total of 1,345 members. But this comparison can be misleading, as the 2010 total included a significant number of unpaid members. We are no longer carrying unpaid members past the 1st Quarter Central Headlight mailing, so future year-to-year comparisons will be more reliable. We have contacted members who did not renew for 2012 with letters and email messages and have been monitoring their responses. These show that almost all attritions are due to death or financial difficulties. I have tasked Membership Committee Chairman Noel Widdifield to strive for a membership growth of 5% by November 1 of the current year, or a target population for November 1, 2012 of 1,370 members. I hope all of our members will help us to accomplish this goal through the active recruitment of new members. We all need to work hard to counterbalance the unavoidable rate of attrition.

While your directors value every membership, we are especially grateful to those among us who choose to assist the Society by registering as sustaining, life sustaining, contributing, or life contributing members. I would also like to remind members who are employed by companies offering corporate gifts to not-for-profit organizations that our Society may qualify for such gifts. Please contact Membership Committee Chairman Noel Widdifield for further information. Finally, please consider including the NYCSHS in your Will with a cash bequest or with a bequest of personal collections that might otherwise be discarded by unknowing loved ones. Horror stories concerning valuable and treasured items being consigned to dumpsters abound!

It has been an honor and a great joy to have served you as the president of the Society for the past year. I look forward to an even more productive year as we work together to further our mission: to perpetuate the legacy of the great New York Central System.

—Richard L. Stoving
NYCSHS President

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