Alex Heckman, this week’s Dayton.com Daytonian of the Week, has historical perspective on the Gem City.
Recently named vice-president of Dayton History, Heckman’s influence can be found at Carillon Park, Hawthorn Hill, Memorial Hall, and any of the other Dayton History properties.
“I want people to know that the city’s history is still being written,” he said. “History is about today and tomorrow as much as it is about yesterday.”
We caught up with Heckman to learn more about his new role and his take on the community.
What do you do and how did you get involved in your work?
I am the Vice President of Dayton History, Montgomery County’s official historical organization. In that capacity, I am responsible for overseeing public programming, exhibits, collections care, building preservation, museum store and guest service functions, and the overall daily museum operations of Carillon Historical Park and our eight other Dayton History properties.
I have been passionate about our region’s history for as long as I can remember. While at the University of Dayton, I worked as a historical technician at Dayton Aviation Heritage National Historical Park, when that Park was still in its infancy. I also spent a few semesters working amongst the centuries-old manuscripts of the Marian Library. Both of these roles whetted my appetite for a public history career.
How long have you been at Dayton History?
I have the good fortune to have been part of the organization since its inception. Dayton History was formed in 2005 as a result of the successful merger of two non-profit, history organizations, Carillon Historical Park and the Montgomery County Historical Society. I was a member of the community leadership team that oversaw the merger process. Prior to the merger, my work at Carillon began in a part-time capacity in 1999 when I was a student at the University of Dayton. I transitioned to full-time employment in 2001.
Why do you think Dayton History is an important institution for the community?
I believe that it is important for any community to collect and preserve its history for future generations. We certainly fulfill that need, but I believe that our importance to the community goes well beyond that function. We are a part of the very fabric of Dayton. We strive to create meaningful experiences for our guests that will connect generations. We are proud that Carillon Historical Park serves as a showcase of what Dayton has been and what it is today.
What is your favorite area or artifact at Carillon Historical Park?
Our museum has so many fascinating narratives to share, but my favorite story is that of the Wright brothers. No other Dayton story carries such international significance. Our two hometown heroes, Wilbur and Orville Wright, took one of the great steps forward in the history of human civilization. They invented the airplane — here in Dayton, Ohio. They built it here. They perfected it here. Our 1905 Wright Flyer III is not simply the world’s first practical airplane and a National Historic Landmark, it is truly one of the most important artifacts in the world.
What would you want people to know about the park?
I want people to know that Carillon Park has something to offer to everyone. We have planes, trains and automobiles but we also have two fantastic theaters, a fully operational 1850s-style brewery, an indoor, one-of-a-kind carousel, tube slides and an archaeological dig pit for the kids, and so much more!
What would you want people to know about the city’s history?
I want people to know that the city’s history is still being written. Contrary to how it is sometimes taught in school, history is not about memorizing facts and figures about dead people. History is about today and tomorrow as much as it is about yesterday. Dayton has many positive things going for it and many complex challenges. That is how it has been since the city was founded in 1796.
What do you think Dayton will look like in 10-15 years?
In 10-15 years, Dayton will look like a city that has achieved the full rebirth of its downtown. It will have an even stronger identity as being an Air Force town. Dayton neighborhoods will start to become more vibrant as the economic rebirth of the urban core spreads outward.
What inspires you about Dayton?
Dayton’s people inspire me. Our city has a proud history of creativity and innovation. Seemingly every single day I read about or personally encounter a citizen of the Dayton region who is tackling one type of problem or another in a new or innovative way. It sounds cliché, but I believe that there is nothing wrong with Dayton that can’t be fixed by what’s right with Dayton.
Where did you grow up?
I am proud to say that I am a native of the Dayton region. I was born and raised here, attended school at UD, was married here and continue to be impressed by what a great region we live in to raise our family.
What should people know about the community?
People should know that Dayton is not a dying, rust-belt city. It is community working hard to leverage its diverse people and institutions to achieve great things in the years ahead.
What superpower would you love to have?
Perhaps it’s because of my lifelong fascination with airplanes, but I can’t think of a better superpower than to fly like Superman.
Describe your perfect Dayton date. What would you do?
Since my wife and I stay so busy with our careers and caring for our four children, a perfect Dayton date at this point in our lives is for the two of us to go out to dinner at a nice restaurant, then stop for ice cream, and then take a walk together on a pleasant summer night or a crisp, autumn evening.
What Dayton area food do you love?
Wood fired pizza from Figlio’s. Pumpernickel bread from Ashley’s Pastries. Laura’s Cookies from DLM. Smales Pretzels. Marion’s Piazza. And, of course, the entire menu at the Carillon Brewing Company!
What would you change about Dayton?
If I could wave a magic wand to solve a problem, I would erase the negativism held by some in our community. It is too easy to be held back by cynicism or by those not willing to think in a longer term, more visionary way.