For the past five years, Ernest Dollar has spent his days giving pop quizzes in history, leading impromptu tours of historical sites and teaching interns how to transcribe 19th century cursive.
Dollar, director of the Preservation Society of Chapel Hill, wanted to make history relevant and meaningful to the community — especially those with an outdated view of preservation societies.
But after leading preservation efforts in Chapel Hill since March 2007, Dollar will leave his position Sept. 10 to become the executive director of the Raleigh City Museum.
“It was a hard decision, but the Raleigh Museum came up, and that is an opportunity that you cannot pass up,” he said.
Dollar made capturing history and engaging the public a priority during his time at the preservation society, said those who work with him.
“Because he knows the people, stories and places, he’s done a great job using those connections to bring this organization and giving back to Chapel Hill,” said Cheri Szcodronski, preservation coordinator for the society.
One of Dollar’s biggest projects as preservation director has been planning the move of the historic Hogan-Rogers House on Purefoy Road.
The Rogers-Eubanks Neighborhood Association plans to use the abandoned house — built in the mid-19th century by Thomas Lloyd Hogan — as a community center.
Rev. Robert Campbell, president of the Rogers-Eubanks Neighborhood Association, has worked with Dollar on the Hogan-Rogers project.
He said he has been impressed by Dollar’s energy.
“Working with Dollar is, like, an experience that everyone should embrace,” Campbell said.
“When you think you have grasped the history that you know and heard about, he opens up another door.”
Dollar has also worked closely with the society’s student interns to help them understand local history.
“I have learned the importance of preserving historical homes because of the people and the stories that these structures tell us about people,” said Beth Bullock, a summer intern at the preservation society.
“People have ties to physical locations that can actually be quite emotionally powerful.”
Derrick Kay, another intern, said Dollar taught him to read census records and interpret artifacts.
“He made history accessible to anyone and it honestly seemed to pervade every aspect of his life,” Kay said.
“I hope to one day be able to say that my passion for something pervades my life such as Ernie’s does.”
Those who work with Dollar say his passion for history will not be easily replaced.
“He’s a really valuable asset not only to the Preservation Society, but to Chapel Hill,” Szcodronski said.
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