We don’t have to look any further than our own Fairfax County Park Authority (FCPA) to find women who have made history. Barbara Naef, retired FCPA Resource Stewardship Section Manager, is a stellar example of a woman whose contributions helped shape the Park Authority. Her work was acknowledged in 2021 at FCPA’s Elly Doyle Awards when she was presented the Mayo Stuntz Cultural Stewardship Award.
After completing her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in history, Barbara began working as a seasonal employee in 1979. She started her career at Dranesville Tavern and with the museum collections that were housed there.
As hard as it is to fathom today, Barbara’s starting salary was a mere $2.81 an hour.
Barbara began her rise in the Park Authority when Dranesville Tavern was selected as the site for the Museum of Early Southern Decorative Arts traveling exhibit, using artifacts from the agency’s collections. Shortly thereafter, she assumed the role of curator of the exhibit and Manager of Collections. In 1983, Barbara became the Division of Historic Preservation’s Assistant Manager, the first woman in the Park Authority to reach that level of management.
Barbara participated in a wide array of projects in the Division of Historic Preservation, where she partnered with former FCPA Resource Stewardship Branch Manager Michael Rierson. Their projects included both the conception and construction of interpretive exhibits at Colvin Run Mill; the adaptive restoration of Walney’s interior, which became a new home for Collections; and directing the research used in the successful effort to save the Frying Pan Meeting House in situ. Barbara’s contributions included the development of the first computerized cataloging system for Museum Collections. She guided the process for Division of Historic Preservation’s second successful American Alliance of Museums (AAM) accreditation and partnered on the third. She helped plan and establish the Historic Property Rental Service and participated in the adaptive reuse restoration of The Clark House. As the first Resource Stewardship Manager, she provided oversight to both Natural and Cultural Resource Branches. Under her watch, the Park Authority used archaeological evidence to construct the representative quarters for the enslaved at Sully Historic Site and to expand programming there to include Sully‘s enslaved community.
Barbara retired from the Park Authority in 2002, but this has not slowed her. Since her retirement, she has stayed active in the history community. For many years, she volunteered with Museum Collections working on the fourth ultimately successful AAM reaccreditation effort as well as deaccessioning projects. Barbara is a founding member of the Friends of Fairfax County Archaeology and Cultural Resources (FOFA). Always an advocate for archaeology, Barbara has served on the Fairfax County History Commission since 2004, both as a representative for the Hunter Mill District and for Archaeology.
While on the History Commission, she chaired the Confederate Names Inventory Committee and is currently active in the Commission’s African-American History Inventory. Barbara’s contributions in retirement continue to inspire new generations of women in the Park Authority and in the fields of history and historic preservations.
Author Dr. Elizabeth Crowell is Fairfax County Park Authority’s Archaeology and Collections Branch Manager.