Paducah River Discovery Center Director Announces Retirement

The longtime director of the River Discovery Center in Paducah, Ky., has announced her upcoming retirement.

The center’s executive director, Julie Harris, will retire at the end of June 2022. She was appointed to the role in early 2001.

Julie Harris
Julie Harris

“On behalf of all the board members, we want to recognize and thank Julie for her extraordinary personal commitment and passion for educating our community and the region about the importance of our inland waterways,” River Discover Center board chairman Nathan Rowton said. “Julie has made a permanent imprint on our center and raised it to be recognized both regionally and nationally for creating and telling an inspiring story about our rivers for generations to come.”

During Harris’ 20-year tenure, she oversaw two major museum expansions and renovations and helped to develop award-winning educational programming. The center raised more than $4 million through grants and business and individual support to make exhibit additions possible.

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Center attendance has also grown significantly during her tenure with the most recent quarter seeing an increase of more than 150 percent from years prior to the pandemic. Harris brought about one of the center’s largest fundraisers, the Paducah Dragon Boat Festival, more than nine years ago.

Harris said she is looking forward to the future and wants to stay busy, although she has not yet determined which of several projects she is passionate about will get her attention first.

She reflected on her time at the River Discovery Center, saying that while growing up in Paducah, she was not as aware of the river industry and its benefits to the region and to society as she later became. She especially has enjoyed sharing that knowledge with the children visiting the museum.

“I loved getting to see young children’s eyes light up when they learned things, to see that light bulb go off about how their personal world benefitted by what’s being transported on our rivers,” she said.

Prior to joining the River Discovery Center, Harris worked in advertising in Atlanta, Ga., for more than 20 years with magazines such as Atlanta Homes and Lifestyles and KNOW Atlanta.

She attended Tulane University and graduated in 1980 from the University of Kentucky. She was a graduate of the Jekyll Island Management Institute and was a former board member with the Southeastern Museum Conference. She is a member of the American Alliance of Museums. Harris currently sits on a number of boards and is a partnership member with the Tennessee RiverLine.

“I have been extraordinarily fortunate to have enjoyed a rewarding career,” she said. “To take a young institution through its critical years of establishing its reputation for relevant educational programming has been a privilege, and it has been an honor to work with a talented staff and dedicated board of directors.”

Mary Hammond, River Discovery Center board member and director of the Paducah Convention and Visitors Bureau said, “Julie’s knowledge of Paducah and the river industry led to many wonderful partnerships over the years. Her creativity helped grow the River Discovery Center experience, for all ages, and has helped our community be recognized as a strong cultural destination.”

A search for the center’s new executive director is expected to begin immediately to identify Harris’s successor.