Leadership Changes at the Clearing

Michael Schneider to retire, Tammy Musiel to become executive director 

The Clearing Folk School’s executive director, Michael Schneider, is retiring this June after 24 years of serving the organization.

“I’ll be 70 in August, so it’s time,” Schneider said. 

Throughout the Clearing’s 89 years in operation, five people have led the organization – or in Schneider’s words, acted as its caretaker. Of those five, Schneider served the longest.

He had been considering retirement well before 2024, but didn’t want to leave while the Clearing was dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic and its immediate aftermath. He also wanted one last “normal” post-pandemic year at the organization, which he got in 2023.

During his 24 years at the Clearing, Schneider oversaw the construction of multiple buildings, including the workshop in 2006 and the forge in 2016, as well as the renovation of other on-campus areas, such as the dorm building in 2002 and the kitchen in 2020 (before that, the kitchen hadn’t been redone since 1942). 

Schneider also led the Clearing through accessibility improvements, which weren’t much of a consideration when the Ellison Bay organization was first established.

But one accomplishment Schneider is most proud of is the 2006 establishment of a conservation easement in partnership with the Door County Land Trust. The easement limits development to five small areas that add up to about eight acres; the other 120 acres of the Clearing can never be developed.

“Ninety-four percent of the property will be preserved forever,” Schneider said.

Though Schneider is retiring, his work at the Clearing isn’t over. He’ll still be a part of the organization’s Thursday-morning volunteer crew and serve on the board’s landscaping committee, as well as work with Roger Kuhns to write a book about the Clearing’s history. He’ll be involved in other local organizations like the Door County Land Trust and the Climate Change Coalition of Door County too.

Taking over for Schneider will be Tammy Musiel, who has been working as the Clearing’s program director for just under 16 years. 

When Schneider announced his plans to retire, the organization’s board of directors approached a few staff members, including Musiel, about taking over the position. A former director of human resources at P&H Mining Equipment, Musiel had management experience that would translate well to the new position.

“In terms of managing people and processes, that’s not new to me,” Musiel said. 

Her years of experience at the Clearing are an asset, too. Before Schneider knew Musiel would be stepping up as executive director, he started making a list of everything he’d have to go over with his replacement. The result was three-and-a-half pages of bullet points in a tiny font, he said. 

“There are so many moving parts – lots of facilities, programming, services,” Schneider said.

Musiel needs training for some aspects of leading the organization, but she already has a working understanding of how the Clearing runs, making Schneider’s job easier.

As Schneider gets Musiel up to speed on her new duties, Musiel is training her own replacement, Emily Roedl, to become the Clearing’s new program director. Roedl began working at the organization in January, so she already has a grasp on how classes and other day-to-day activities go.

While Musiel’s prior work experience was one element that made her a good candidate for the executive-director role, another is her love for the organization and respect for its mission, attitudes she shares with her predecessors. 

With that sense of respect in mind, Musiel isn’t looking to make any drastic changes to the organization while she leads it. Instead, she wants to stay true to the Clearing’s long-time mission: to help people reconnect with the earth and discover a sense of community as they learn through nature study and hands-on work.“I’ve seen what happens when everybody wants to make their mark, their legacy,” Musiel said. “In my mind, we [the Clearing] already have a legacy that we just need to take care of.”

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