Thayer Succeeds von Stade as Racing Museum President

Edited from National Museum of Racing press release--

John T. von Stade, the longest-tenured president in the history of the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame in Saratoga Springs, N.Y., completed 16 years of service Aug. 11 and was named chairman of the museum's Board of Trustees.

Stella F. Thayer, president of Tampa Bay Downs, will succeed von Stade, 67, as the museum's ninth president. von Stade will succeed Martha Gerry, who was the board chairman for six years and will become chairman emeritus.

The changes were approved by the trustees Thursday during the museum's annual meeting.

Thayer has been active in Thoroughbred racing and has been in ownership with her brother, Howell Ferguson, of Tampa Bay Downs, since 1986. Thayer served as president of the Thoroughbred Racing Associations for a two-year term beginning in 1999. A resident of Tampa, Fla., Thayer has been a museum trustee since 1994 and served as an executive vice-president before being elected president.

"I think the museum is on a good track," Thayer said. "It has a modern building with excellent collections, programs and exhibitions. In particular, we want to continue to enhance the Hall of Fame.

"What I hope to do is insure we that we have a good financial foundation and can continue to offer the best exhibits and be the finest repository for the national sport of Thoroughbred racing, which I love. This is a wonderful institution," said Thayer.

After serving more than a decade as a trustee, von Stade, a resident of Barnardsville, N.J., was elected museum president in 1989, succeeding Whitney Tower. von Stade's father, F. Skiddy von Stade, was one of the founders of the museum in 1950 and was the last president of the Saratoga Association, which owned and operated Saratoga Race Course before its assimilation into what is now the New York Racing Association.

An art dealer, von Stade is the co-chairman of the Far Hills Race Meeting Association, which hosts the Breeders' Cup Steeplechase each October. Proceeds of the one-day event--which routinely draws crowds of 50,000 people--benefit Somerset Medical Center in Somerville, N.J.

The outgoing president said his tenure as chief executive of the museum lasted much longer than he had expected.

"I thought I'd do this for maybe a half-dozen years," von Stade said. "That was my plan at the time."

A series of major projects kept von Stade busy and he remained president.

"Between 1989 and 1993 we had a lot of sort of catching up to do," von Stade said. "We brought in an entire new museum staff. They were professional museum people and that made a lot of difference on what needed to be done.

"We kept finding things that should have and could have been done, but no one got around to it. Under the leadership of the new director, Peter Hammell, we brought it around," said von Stade.

After making the personnel changes, the museum trustees began looking toward the future in 1994.

"When we introduced the concept of a long-range plan I thought, `Well, I'm here. It's crazy to try to find someone new at that time to come in because they would have to start from scratch.' So I just stayed on, thinking the next step would be to kind of ease out in 1999-2000."

During the second half of the 1990s, von Stade oversaw the construction of new wing that provided much need-ed exhibition space, and addressed issues such as making the building handicap-accessible and updating the aging heating and air conditioning systems.

The project cost nearly $18 million and increased the size of the facility to 45,000 square feet.

Thayer graduated from Hollins College in Virginia and earned her law degree at Columbia University. She is an attorney and shareholder in the law firm of Macfarlane, Ferguson and McMullen.

Before it was acquired by British Aerospace, Thayer was the chairman of the board and a director of Reflectone, a manufacturer of full-flight simulators.

Among her many civic and governmental activities in Tampa, Thayer is a member of the board of trustees of the Tampa General Hospital Foundation, and a member of the board of trustees of the University of South Florida Foundation. She is the former chairman of the Hillsborough County Aviation Authority, the governing board of Tampa International Airport and is the former chairman of the Hillsborough County Hospital Authority.

Former presidents of the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame and their years of service: C. V. Whitney, 1950-53; Walter Jeffords Sr., 1953-60; George D. Widener, 1960-68; John W. Hanes, 1968-70; Gerard S. Smith, 1970-74; Charles E. Mather II, 1974-82; Whitney Tower, 1982-89; John T. von Stade, 1989-2005.