A venerable museum in the New Milford village center has a fresh face now at the helm as it seeks to enhance its role in the community.

Trustees and board members of the New Milford Historical Society Museum agree their new curator is a "gem."

"I think Lisa (Roush) is bringing a renewal of excitement to the museum's offerings," said trustee Bob Coppola. "She has a delightful manner that encourages people to come to the museum."

Mrs. Roush became curator at the Aspetuck Avenue museum in May.

Her previous position was at the Macculloch Hall Historical Museum in New Jersey as curator of collections.

The Roxbury resident has also served in curatorial positions at Rutgers University in New Jersey, Gibbes Museum of Art in South Carolina and the Biltmore Estate in North Carolina.

Her goal in New Milford is first to organize and better preserve the museum's collection and second to present a public face to the museum that would encourage membership and community involvement.

"Lisa has a special energy, a spark," said society President Joanne Lillis, "and the enthusiasm and professional background to bring a lot of good things to the museum."

"We're looking forward to greater visibility for the society and museum in the town," Ms. Lillis added.

Like many institutions, the museum has struggled over the last years as bequests dwindled and interest paid on its endowment's investments has diminished, Mr. Coppola said.

"There's just so much of a `pie' of available donations to go around to support community interests," he said. "People are generous but, in tough financial times like we've had, they don't donate or have to chose sparingly where they donate."

A new array of programs are being offered on Thursday nights and Sunday afternoons starting in the fall, free to museum members and open to the public.

Outreach programs to the schools are being designed to augment what teachers are presenting in the classrooms.

"I'm grateful to the board of directors for this gift of having planned an exciting series of programs," Mrs. Roush said. "It gives me a year to dedicate to really organizing the collection. It's a treasure trove here."

On her agenda is moving the collection in storage from the attic of the main gallery to the attic in Knapp House.

Knapp House is the 1850 building next door to St. Francis School on the historical society's campus at the north end of the Village Green.

Close inspection and inventory will be undertaken during the move.

Mrs. Roush plans, with board approval, to purchase portable air conditioners and dehumidifiers for the Knapp House attic to provide climate control.

"It's important to control the environment, especially for textiles and papers," Mrs. Rouch explained. "At this time, in the main gallery attic, that is not possible."

"What I love to do is collection care," she said. "I also want to ignite an interest in New Milford's history. We're a hidden gem here, with wonderful works by local artists, antique furniture representative of early New Milford -- and a wealth of information on the founding fathers of the town."

The Lillis family has been a mainstay of the historical society and museum. Ms. Lillis' brother, Joe Lillis Jr., was the town's historian -- a title he held until his death in 2005.

She realizes New Milford has changed over the years, with new families moving in who don't have their town roots.

Longtime local families have been the mainstay of historical society membership in all towns across the state, Mr. Coppola noted. With a population change, interest in the town's history must be re-kindled, he said.

"We want to make the museum come alive for everyone in our town," Ms. Lillis said. "With new ideas to entice people in, we can bring a new awareness to what a gorgeous museum we have to offer."

For Mrs. Roush, the curator's position opened at the perfect time.

Her family's youngest member, Kate, starts kindergarten at Booth Free School in Roxbury in the fall. Kate's brothers, Jack, 11, and Henry, 9, are already Region 12 students.

The Roushs moved to Roxbury 10 years ago when Mr. (Mathew) Roush's job transferred him to the area. For Mrs. Roush, it was "coming home."

She had grown up in Southbury.

"Retired curator Pamela Edwards is back at the museum to teach me the ropes," Mrs. Roush said. "We've also just offered her the position of registrar. We'll be a team."

In May 2012, the opening exhibit of the museum season will be executed by Mrs. Roush.

What will come next?

Perhaps an afternoon of croquet in whites on the museum's lawn, while sipping mint julleps, Mrs. Roush mused.

The New Milford Historical Society Museum is open Mondays, Wednesdays and Thursdays from 1 to 4 p.m. A benefit tag sale will be held July 29 and 30 during the Village Fair Days. A reception with early bird shopping will be July 28 from 5 to 8 p.m. in the Boardman House on the museum campus. Admission will be $10 for members and $15 for nonmembers.