Last year, the city of Jacksonville celebrated its 200th anniversary, though the history of the area goes back much further. Kate A. Hallock is chief of staff and communications director for the Jacksonville Historical Society, which helps preserve the past for the future.
Please tell me about your background, your education and how you found your way into your current position.
I grew up in the Midwest and received a bachelor's degree in journalism from the University of Missouri—Columbia (Go, MIZZOU!). After spending 35 years in marketing, I returned to journalism here in Jacksonville as managing editor for the Resident Community News Group. In 2019, I did some freelance marketing work for the Jacksonville Historical Society and was offered a position starting in 2020 as marketing and communications director.
Have you always had an interest in history, especially local history?
I’ve always loved to read historical fiction, especially James Michener’s books, but it wasn’t until my husband and I moved to Jacksonville that I took a deeper interest in local history. That interest grew as I met more and more multi-generational Jaxsons covering a variety of stories.
For those who don’t know much about Jacksonville history, especially among the many new residents moving here from elsewhere, can you share a few of the really cool things that might spark their interest?
Did you know that Jacksonville’s single most significant catastrophe, to date, was the Great Fire of 1901? We have a really cool book in our bookstore about the fire by Wayne Wood, the historical society’s historian-at-large. And Jacksonville’s music history is incredible, which is why we are establishing the Music Museum at the Jacksonville History Center. Stay tuned, folks!
Tell me about the Jacksonville Historical Society. Does it offer any special events, activities or exhibits that readers would like to learn about?
Oh, this is easy! Coming up is our largest fundraiser, the 21st Annual Gingerbread Extravaganza. The exhibit runs Dec. 8-27 at Old St. Andrew’s Church (next to the ballpark) at 317 A. Philip Randolph Blvd. Visitors will enjoy dozens of gingerbread creations by builders of all ages, and more than a dozen themed holiday trees decorated by the Junior League of Jacksonville, plus a fun gift shop! Visit jaxhistory.org for details. In the spring we commemorate the Great Fire with a 5K run downtown on the Saturday closest to the date of the fire, May 3, 1901. This year the run occurs on May 4 and begins at Old St. Andrew’s Church, one of four historic properties that we manage. We also offer monthly programs and lectures on a variety of historical subjects.
As chief of staff at the Jacksonville Historical Society, what are some of your responsibilities?
In addition to our chief executive officer, Dr. Alan Bliss, and myself, we have seven employees who keep the wheels turning at the historical society. I enjoy working with our office administrator, an events coordinator, a digital productions coordinator, three staff in the archives department and the Merrill House Museum tour coordinator, who knows more history about the Merrill Shipyards and Merrill family than anyone I know. We also have a terrific group of volunteers as well as a rotation of UNF interns.
Are you a longtime resident of Jacksonville? What do you like best about living on The First Coast?
Although my husband, Bill, and I moved here in November 2011 (12 years this month!) and have lived on a 52-foot motor vessel ever since, my Jacksonville story began in 1957. When I was a year old, my family moved here when my father became the pastor of a primarily Black congregation in Northwest Jacksonville. We were here for 18 months until the KKK drove us out because they didn’t appreciate a white man shepherding a Black flock. Despite that rocky start 66 years ago, it was easy to return. I love Jacksonville’s diversity!
How do you like to spend your free time?
What free time? Actually, I get my 10,000 steps each morning walking through Ortega, and I love leading a deep-water aerobics class at the Winston Family Y!