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Linda Conrad feels right at home as the Executive Director at Stan Hywet Hall and Gardens in Akron

By Nina Polien Light
Photo by Thomas Skernivitz

Linda Conrad’s first job was in her family’s Christmas tree business. Since then she has worked as an executive in strategic planning, business development, brand management, and product development at Walt Disneyworld as well as head of retail and attractions at The World of Coca-Cola Museum in Atlanta. And did we mention she is an avid gardener, pianist, and interior designer?

No wonder she feels at home as the executive director of Stan Hywet Hall and Gardens in Akron.

“Stan Hywet is a microcosm of my work experience, and it’s been fun, too,” she says.

For the last five years Conrad has been tasked with overseeing the strategic direction, operations, financial results, marketing, community outreach, fundraising events, restoration and preservation, and capital projects of the 70-acre property, which will celebrate its centennial next year. She is also responsible for the Estate’s for-profit restoration/preservation company and manages its oil and gas wells. She supervises 95 employees (some are seasonal) and 450 volunteers while reporting to a 25-person board of directors.

Over the years Stan Hywet has become a favorite destination for families, schoolchildren, corporate events, fundraisers, weddings, concerts, and other special occasions. Old English for “stone quarry,” it was built by F.A. Seiberling, founder of The Goodyear Tire and Rubber Co. and co-founder of Seiberling Tire. His family lived there from 1915 until the mid-1950s. A foundation was started in 1957 and the Estate was opened to the public with the mandate to preserve and share the Estate as well as serve as a source for educational, cultural, and recreational enrichment. The property’s eight historical gardens, 65,000-square-foot manor house, and three additional historic buildings make it the sixth-largest historic site in the nation open to the public.

“It’s considered one of the most significant historic estates because of its size and the authenticity of the collection,” Conrad says. “The family gifted the entire Manor House contents, including furnishings, décor, and belongings. Visitors are able to see the house as it was when the family lived here. That’s pretty special.”

More than 100,000 people visit Stan Hywet each year between April 1 and Jan. 2.
Conrad says companies enjoy holding corporate or team-building events at Stan Hywet because it is not a typical meeting or convention space. Still, the historic site offers audiovisual capabilities, catering services, two auditoriums, an air-conditioned conference tent, outdoor spaces, reception gathering areas for evening events, and the services of an event-planning team.

“We can also arrange manor house tours, grounds tours, live music or whatever the client wants,” she says.
In addition to hosting business events, Stan Hywet holds more than 150 weddings, receptions, and private events each year. It is the home of the Ohio Shakespeare Festival, the Goodyear Band, and The Akron Black Stockings vintage baseball team.

Stan Hywet is host to six large-scale public events annually. Conrad is especially excited about the Estate’s newest fundraiser, Concours d’Elegance, slated for Sept. 20-21. The celebration of style will include rare, priceless historic automobiles as well as vintage fashions, gourmet food, automobile-related art, and music. Collectors from across the country are submitting cars for consideration.

“Visitors are able to see the house as it was when the family lived here. That’s pretty special.”

“The rare to priceless display of antique cars will be combined with a fall trend fashion show,” Conrad says. “We’re partnering with Saks 5th Avenue in Cleveland. There will also be specialty tours and high teas.”

Among the featured guests will be Leigh and Leslie Keno, appraisers who appear on The Antiques Road Show, and Wayne Carini from the cable show, Chasing Classic Cars. All proceeds will support Stan Hywet.

Educating and engaging children is an important component of Stan Hywet’s mission. The Estate works with the Akron Public Schools and Akron Public Library to help fifth- and sixth-grade public school students with standards-based learning. They use the Estate’s archives as a primary source for research and the landscape as a learning lab.

New this year is a 5,000-square-foot playgarden featuring a brick Tudor playhouse, bowling lawn, musical entrance area that makes bubbles, 1929 antique Ford truck planted with seasonal flowers and plants, and two bicycles that — when children pedal them — turn on the truck headlights and radio. A splash fountain and Joe’s Dig — a bone-shaped sand pit complete with buried treasure — also provide amusement. “There’s a lot of interactive play, but they also learn something as they go along,” Conrad says. “The playgarden is also teeming with flowers and plants, providing a sensory experience.”

Conrad has learned that running a nonprofit organization is challenging, complicated by its tight margins, but she calls on her financial, business acumen, and leadership skills to see her through. She especially enjoys the community and government outreach aspects of her job.

To female businesswomen, she offers this advice: “Always do the best job you can possibly do, seek additional responsibilities and opportunities, have a great attitude, and develop leadership skills. On a personal level, be kind and generous with your time and talent.”

For more information: stanhywet.org

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