Interpreting Baltimore's past

Dennis Zembala: Museum of Industry founding director will take over Detroit's history collections.

April 22, 2000

DENNIS ZEMBALA is one of Baltimore's unsung heroes. Two decades ago, he took over a one-room collection of odds and ends and built it into the Museum of Industry, an exhibit and research center chronicling this city's smokestack past.

Mr. Zembala's energetic leadership here is now coming to an end: He has been named director of the Detroit Historical Museums by Mayor Dennis W. Archer.

The appointment is a crowning achievement for Mr. Zembala, 57. He will return to his native city to oversee an institution that includes two city sites, as well as the Great Lakes Maritime Museum and historic Fort Wayne, which was an active military base through the Vietnam war and houses tributes to Native Americans and the Tuskegee airmen.

Mr. Zembala gave the Baltimore Museum of Industry some of the variety that he will now have in Detroit. Along with his wife, Ann Steele, the museum's deputy director and chief curator, Mr. Zembala was constantly acquiring relics, raising funds and mobilizing volunteers. They were also pioneers of a scholarly field known as industrial archeology, documenting the development of the city's early manufacturing.

Many ambitious expansion dreams are still unfinished, including a plan to moor the Liberty ship John W. Brown there. But the Museum of Industry's future looks as bright as its surrounding shoreline, one of the hottest redevelopment areas in the city -- thanks to Dennis Zembala and Ann Steele.

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