Know Your Neighbors: Heidi Ruehle-May, Executive Director of the Pleasant Home Foundation

As residents of OP/RF/FP, we are lucky to live in a place that others come to visit or vacation. You can spend a week of ‘staycation’ in our neighborhood and never be bored (I’ve tried it). Within a few square miles, there are several museums, one of these being the Pleasant Home Foundation, a living museum in the heart of Oak Park.

As a ‘living museum’, the Pleasant Home is open to the public and offers a variety of performances, events, and programs. In the past few years, you may have noticed that the museum is attracting more visitors than ever. This is in no doubt in part due to the efforts of Heidi Ruehle-May and her team who have been working hard to increase the number of people who get to experience everything the home has to offer.

Read on to learn more about Heidi’s role at the Pleasant Home Foundation, what brought her there, her life outside of work and how she stays organized. And don’t forget to check out Pleasant Home’s list of upcoming events – there is something for everyone!

Around Oak Park
Where is home for you? And what brought you there?

Heidi Ruehle-May
I’ve lived in and out of Oak Park since I was a newlywed in 1997. We always envisioned ourselves raising our children in Oak Park and moved back (permanently) in 2007. We love the proximity to the city with the small-town feel. Excellent restaurants and schools.

AOP
And you work in Oak Park too! Tell us about that.

Heidi
I’m the Executive Director of the Pleasant Home Foundation, a historic house museum in Oak Park. I was on the board of directors at PHF for a year until I was hired for the position in 2013. Most of my professional experience has been in social services either in fundraising and development or program management. I also started my career working at an architecture firm, and all these experiences came together in my current position.

East View of Pleasant Home Photo Credit: James Caulfield Photography

East View of Pleasant Home
Photo Credit: James Caulfield Photography

AOP
When you’re not at the Pleasant Home, where can we find you?

Heidi
When I’m not working I’m usually at home with my family including boy/girl twins (9 years old) and husband of 20 years. As many full-time working moms experience, I also am the primary caregiver for our kids and manage many of the household tasks. At home I’ll be in the kitchen attempting to make healthy, freezer-friendly meals and snacks, helping kids while they practice piano, gymnastics, karate or homework. When I do have a few minutes of peace at the end of the night you can find me folding laundry while watching The Walking Dead or possibly cross-stitching or reading work-related books about museums, guerrilla marketing or development. Once or twice a month my husband and I have a date night.

AOP
When you were a kid, what did you want to be when you ‘grew up’?

Heidi
Since fifth grade I wanted to be an interior designer or architect even though I didn’t quite understand what that meant. I finished my degree in interior architecture but fell in love with the crazy world of non-profit work shortly after starting my career.

AOP
How did you fall in love with the ‘crazy world of non-profit work’?

Heidi
I was working at an architecture firm and although I was doing a good job and the work was interesting, I wasn’t feeling personally fulfilled. I started volunteering for a refugee resettlement organization tutoring a lovely senior woman from Ukraine for her citizenship exam. This experience opened my eyes to a whole new world of possibilities and within a year I was working for the same organization.

When I went to college, there weren’t majors for philanthropy, fund development or the administrative side of non-profit organizations. Most of these jobs were held by social workers or similar. It took me volunteering in a completely unknown field to get connected and ultimately establish myself in this line of work.

AOP
What would you consider your greatest professional success?

Heidi
Hiring new, qualified, creative and hard-working staff to help generate tourism, revenue, and awareness of our museum. Since I started, tourism increased by 148%, revenues increased by 71% and program attendance is up by almost 300%.

AOP
What does a typical day look like for you?

Heidi
Wake up at 6 a.m., get myself ready for work and wake up kids at 6:45 a.m. While they’re getting ready, start making breakfast (omelets, French toast, homemade frozen turkey meatballs, smoothies). If I didn’t get it done the prior evening, I make their lunch. After bus stop, run to work by 8 a.m.

On any day during the week I’ll be writing grants, processing thank-you acknowledgment letters, writing e-blasts, writing/scheduling social media posts, bookkeeping, planning events, designing marketing materials, fundraising, talking with donors, planning and attending board or committee meetings, meeting with restoration contractors, etc.

Rush home by 3 p.m. to get kids from bus, oversee their homework, make snacks, take them to karate/gymnastics practices, invite their friends over so I can get some housework done, make dinner, get kids to bed by 8pm. Spend the rest of the evening doing household tasks or chatting with the husband with a glass of wine in hand. Sometimes have work meetings in the evening. In bed no later than 10 p.m. (sometimes I fall asleep with kids).

AOP
Phew! You have a lot going on. How do you stay organized? Any tips? 

Heidi
I live off my Google calendar – can’t remember a thing unless it’s in there.

Establishing routines help. Cooking/prepping food ahead of time and freezing for easy use later (helps to have a hands-on spouse so I can make time for this over the weekends).

Love lists! I use a simple notepad app on my phone or write them on scrap paper.

I have found that labeled bins work wonders for laundry, storage, etc. Forces the rest of the family to use the same system.

AOP
If you were magically given three more hours a day, how would you use them?

Heidi
Read. I love to read but rarely find time to do so unless it’s work-related. Also exercise regularly – it’s hard to dedicate time when my work schedule is so limited.

AOP
What is the first app, website or thing you open/do in the morning?

Heidi
Work email – I like to get through as much as possible before jumping into a larger project or task.

AOP
What is your favorite season?

Heidi
Autumn – I’ve always loved the trees changing color, a crispness in the air without being too cold, return to a normal schedule after a busy summer, making and eating warm, homey meals and a ton of community events in Oak Park.

AOP
How would you describe yourself in three words? How would others describe you?

Heidi
I would describe myself as driven, insecure, over-achieving
Others would describe me as nurturing, organized, over-achieving

AOP
Last, but not least, what is coming up at Pleasant Home that we should know about?

Heidi
Pleasant Home has a full calendar of cultural programs and performances, architectural education in the form of lectures and tours, and quite possibly the most enchanting space in the area for small event rentals.

In 2017, we will be hosting a coach house tour in Oak Park (September 24), a murder mystery theatrical performance (February 15-18) and our annual holiday market (November 10-11) just to name a few.

Pleasant Home - Great Hall Photo Credit; James Caulfield Photography

Pleasant Home – Great Hall
Photo Credit; James Caulfield Photography


To connect with Heidi and find out more about the Pleasant Home Foundation, visit:
Heidi Ruehle-May
Facebook: www.facebook.com/pleasanthomefoundation
Email: hruehlemay@pleasanthome.org
Phone: 708.383.2654

About

Kelli is a contributor for Around Media Group. She also (intermittently) writes about the restoration of her 100 year old Oak Park house (and other stuff) at downwithop.com. In her ‘real life’ she works as a Marketing Research Director. And in her free time she loves hanging out with her husband/friends/family, wine, comedy, design, biking, organizing, traveling, meeting new people, taking classes and exploring OP/RF/FP – not necessarily in that order.

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