The Will Rogers Memorial Commission has named an interim director as it launches a nationwide search to replace departing director Michelle Lefebvre-Carter.

The Will Rogers Memorial Commission is a state agency that oversees the nine-gallery Will Rogers Memorial Museum of Claremore and the 400-acre 1870s living history Will Rogers birthplace ranch near Oologah.

Steven K. Gragert, associate director of the museum, has been named interim director. During his tenure at the Claremore museum, he has been archivist-librarian and shared in management policy and day-to-day operations.

Gragert past association with the museum's work includes editing 17 books on Will Rogers. He spearheaded the fourth and fifth volumes of “The Will Rogers Papers,” published by the University of Oklahoma Press.

Lefebvre-Carter has been museum director since 1999. She leaves the post to “pursue other interests and to spend more time with my family.”

Lefebvre-Carter took over the directorship of the museum after her husband, Joseph H. Carter, stepped down after 10 years of service in the leadership position.

“With two wonderful tourism attractions open 365 days a year,” Lefebvre-Carter said, “the work load is heavy. Moreover, we maintain a full library and the official archives of Will Rogers and conduct effective outreach programs.”

As president of Will Rogers Heritage, Inc., a private foundation, Lefebvre-Carter also raised private funds to augment state appropriations that “have been drastically cut in recent years by the Legislature.”

Gragert, a vice-president of the foundation, will become its treasurer.

“Members of the Commission have repeatedly praised Michelle and her husband, Joseph H. Carter, the former director, for their fine work over the past 17 years. They were a team although only one drew a salary during all those years,” Jim Hartz, Commission chair, said.

“The Commission unanimously tapped Gragert as the interim director and strongly encouraged him to apply for the directorship,” Hartz said. “However, our minds are open and a nationwide search is under way. Details will be available soon on our Web site, www.willrogers.com.”

Gragert owned a publishing firm in addition to his employment at Oklahoma State University in Stillwater and Rogers State University in Claremore.

Greg Malak, another associate director with three decades of work at the museum, is leaving his post Oct. 20. Lefebvre-Carter departs in October when Gragert assumes the interim position.

Hartz and Gragert said the transition would be seamless.

“We are looking forward to events in 2007,” Gragert said, “the third annual Will Rogers Wild West International Expo, the annual Will Rogers-Wiley Post Fly-In at the Oologah Dog Iron Ranch and Will Rogers Days in November, all Centennial events.”

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