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LaVarnway will retire from Remington museum’s helm later this year

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OGDENSBURG —Growing up in Massena, Edward A. LaVarnway can remember boyhood trips to Ogdensburg to visit relatives and now and then making the trek to the Frederic Remington Art Museum on Washington Street.

One thing stayed with him as he looked at the late artist’s sculptures, illustrations and paintings.

“I was always fascinated by the bronzes,” Mr. LaVarnway, 62, recalled Tuesday.

Mr. LaVarnway has been executive director of the museum since August 2005. He is retiring this year, once a successor is chosen by the museum’s board of trustees.

Mr. LaVarnway’s arrival at the museum actually started out as a search with his wife, Karan, for a waterfront vacation house from their home base in Albany, where he worked as a stockbroker. They found the house, on the Oswegatchie River in the town of Oswegatchie.

But in a November 2004 issue of the Sunday Advance News, Mr. LaVarnway found something else.

“And then the ad,” he said.

It was a classified ad for the museum’s executive director’s position. Thinking of the new house and maybe all those fascinating bronzes, Mr. LaVarnway made the plunge complete by changing his career.

He said it has been a satisfying change.

“I really like the people I work with,” Mr. LaVarnway said. “They’re wonderful people. It’s a great group.”

That camaraderie has come in handy, especially when Mr. LaVarnway knew from the start that running a museum was no cushy ride.

“It’s a business, isn’t it?” he said.

A business that is not unlike others in tough times. He has weathered tight budgets, decreased donations and the assault on the museum’s endowment, standing at $600,000 but battered by a fluctuating stock market.

“Well, we struggled,” Mr. LaVarnway said. “St. Lawrence County is economically challenged.”

The museum, he said, is using its art outreach programs at local schools that face cutbacks in art programs.

“The museum is trying to fill that gap,” Mr. LaVarnway said.

Mr. LaVarnway said the highlight of his tenure at the Remington has been the $4.5 million Centennial Campaign that so far has raised $2,012,000 to pay for ongoing renovations at the 89-year-old landmark at 303 Washington St. The museum boasts 17,000 visitors and 100,000 website hits annually.

His efforts haven’t gone unnoticed.

“Ed has been and continues to be very, very dedicated to the museum,” said museum Board of Trustees President William J. Cavanaugh. “I will miss working with him.”

Trustee emeritus Wesley L. Stitt, whom Mr. LaVarnway calls his mentor, is also a fan.

“He’s done very well,” Mr. Stitt said. “Nothing but good.”

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