If you’ve ever shopped at the KSQ Farmers Market, enjoyed a Third Thursday event on State Street, attended a Kennett Brewfest or Winterfest event, delighted in the magic of the Holiday Village Market, taken a treasured family photo in front of Kennett Square’s Christmas tree, or participated in any other Historic Kennett Square event over the past eight years, you’ve benefitted from Claire Murray’s hard work and passion for community collaboration.
After eight years at Historic Kennett Square, most recently in the position of Community Engagement Manager, Claire has announced her resignation effective September 30. She’s looking forward to pursuing other interests and leaves HKS having made a real and lasting difference both in the organization and in the Kennett community—a community she loves for its quirkiness and its wonderfully diverse mix of people, personalities, and organizations.
“Kennett is at its best when different organizations are working together,” she says. “I see strength in very collaborative, multi-organization events.” Nurturing those community partnerships was a key part of her role from the very beginning at HKS, when Mary Hutchins hired her part-time to help with the Kennett Brewfest and other HKS initiatives. As HKS programs and partnerships grew in both size and number, Claire’s position quickly became a full-time one.
These new initiatives included Third Thursdays on State Street, Evening of the Arts, the Holiday Village Market, and the Pop-Up Arts Tour/Expanded Art Stroll. “Third Thursdays were born out of conversations between Mary Hutchins and the then Borough manager as they looked for ways to enliven business during the slower summer months,” Claire explains. “And we very quickly saw how much the community embraced these events.” In addition to being successful dining events, Third Thursdays introduced Kennett to the power of placemaking. Through Claire’s networking and integration of other nonprofits, community building flourished through Third Thursdays. One iconic picture of the fun and engagement that result from these kinds of collaborations is from a Third Thursday in 2018 when organizations including the Kennett Library, Casa Guanajuato, LCH, the Garage, and the Kennett Y all built different mini-golf holes or contributed to the event to create a unique and family-friendly course for all at the intersection of State and Union Streets. “We built some really rewarding partnerships with community nonprofits,” she says. Claire has also deeply appreciated HKS’s partnership with the Borough over the years, and in particular the above-and-beyond hard work of the Public Works Department.
Much of what goes into those kinds of collaborations isn’t as visible or tangible as a mini-golf course. Relationships of trust and mutuality are fertile soil for the seeds of creativity that blossom into these kinds of programs and events. At Joan Holliday’s Bridging the Community meetings, which Claire began attending just after her graduation from Penn State, she was inspired by the kinds of connections that can bring disparate groups of people to work together around a common purpose. “Kennett has always been an early adapter of that sort of collaborative spirit. The community has a legacy of being welcoming and open to creative support,” she says. “Casa Guanajuato’s Day of the Dead celebration is a beautiful example of an event that celebrates the diversity of our community and shares a rich cultural heritage—including history, visual art, music, dance, food, costumes, and storytelling—with everyone who participates.”
Claire has seen lots of changes and the evolution of that spirit of collaboration over her time with HKS, from gathering artists and community members for arts and culture collaborations to regular Zoom meetings convened by the Southern Chester County Opportunity Network (SCCON) since the beginning of the pandemic to connect key community and nonprofit leaders with the resources needed to meet unprecedented needs in the community. In addition to bringing people together around a vision and tending to all of the behind-the-scenes details that make large-scale events run so smoothly, Claire has often been spotted around town doing a million-and-one practical tasks from putting up signs and tables (and taking them down again) to taking photos of events, people, and the small businesses that many HKS events are designed to support. In all of this Claire has embodied the new vision that HKS recently adopted, to make Kennett thrive and create programs and events that help Kennett become a more beautiful and welcoming community where all can belong and prosper.
This summer’s series of pollination celebrations at the KSQ Farmers Market perfectly encapsulated this spirit of community collaboration and reflected nature’s own patterns of cooperation and growth. “These events were really fun and meaningful,” Claire says. She and KSQ Farmers Market Manager Ros Fenton worked with the Kennett Library as well as Kennett Area Park Authority, Kennett Greenway, The Land Conservancy of Southern Chester County, Casa Guanajuato, and many others to offer these fun, free, and informative celebrations as part of the market at The Creamery. The market community is also an important part of Claire’s own deep roots in Southern Chester County soil.
Claire grew up with a natural affinity for the land, roaming the fields and woods of her family’s Inverbrook Farm in West Grove. While at Penn State studying Environmental Resource Management, she attended a PASA ( a Pennsylvania-based sustainable agriculture association) conference. She loved it and knew she had found her tribe. After graduating, she began farming and selling vegetables at her family’s property with a view to starting Inverbrook Farm, a sustainable family farm with a commitment to environmental stewardship and strengthening community. In the meantime, Claire also worked with Stroud Water Research Center and Brandywine Valley Association and was active in the Turtle Dove Folk Club, where her love for music and community came together and she gained some of the event organization experience she would eventually bring to HKS.
In 2000, the late Nancy Mohr brought Claire in to help with the “humble beginnings” of the KSQ Farmers Market. The Kennett market was modeled on the only other market in the area at the time, the successful West Chester Growers Market. “I thought if nothing else it would be a good way to market Inverbrook Farm and the CSA (community supported agriculture) option that would be coming,” Claire says. “That was my introduction to Kennett.” Many community members will remember fondly the extraordinary flavors of the produce Claire grew for 14 years for the Inverbrook Farm CSA.
When the Buy Fresh Buy Local initiative was in its infancy, Claire was part of the early conversations and eventually became the Chester County coordinator. “Buy Fresh Buy Local was a marketing tool for farmers started by the Food Routes Network funded by the Kellogg Foundation,” she explains. “They knew the value of the kind of big branding that farmers couldn’t afford. It was a national program with local partners, and an exciting food network grew out of the movement with roots this in region. Aimee Olexy, of Talula’s Table, wrote the introduction to the first Philadelphia Buy Fresh Buy Local guide.” Through collaborative events, Claire’s passion for bringing people together—to build appreciation for local art, music, and food, as well as mutual understanding and community—continued to grow.
The Inverbrook CSA season came to an end for Claire at a time when farmers markets and CSAs were experiencing a bit of a downturn—in part as a result of their success. “By that time, people could get good local produce in so many places,” she says. She began working at HKS in September 2013, to help with the Kennett Brewfest, and she sees a kind of bittersweet irony in leaving the organization at the time of this year’s Brewfest as she looks forward to a new season of personal and professional growth. In the short-term, she’ll be heading up some projects at Inverbrook and spending more time with her family. The great news for the community is that, as she says, she’s not going anywhere.
“Claire has made immeasurable contributions not only to Historic Kennett Square but to the entire Kennett community,” says HKS Executive Director Bo Wright. “The organization would not be what it is today without her. I’ve learned so much from Claire in my time here about the community, its people, and the context of our events and institutions here in Southern Chester County. We’ll miss her wisdom and insight, tireless hard work, and kind and thoughtful instinct for drawing people and organizations together to work for the greater good of the community. She has many gifts and abilities, and we look forward to seeing where this new chapter will bring her.”
Mary Hutchins agrees. “Claire was such an asset to Historic Kennett Square,” she says. “Her love for and commitment to the Kennett community and her tireless work ethic was a perfect fit at HKS. Her job was not always easy, having to be a jack-of-all-trades, but she did it with grace and enthusiasm. I am sure I speak for many of us in the community when I say, ‘Thank you, Claire, and don’t be a stranger—we want to continue to see you in town, with or without your camera.’”
HKS makes Kennett thrive. We intentionally create programs and events that help Kennett become a more beautiful and welcoming community where all can belong and prosper.