Three weeks ago, Gettysburg National Military Park Supt. John Latschar got a shock.

A search committee of the nonprofit Gettysburg Foundation named him its top pick to succeed Robert Wilburn as the organization's president. Latschar said he had "never considered" the position previously.

But, after seeking the advice of colleagues and taking some time for reflection, Latschar said, he decided to take the position that will make him responsible for the foundation's fundraising initiatives, operation of Gettysburg's new museum and visitor center and expansion of the organization's membership list, already more than 30,000 strong.

"Bottom line, I ended up taking the opportunity," he said.

On Thursday, the foundation's board of directors unanimously named Latschar the group's president. His 14-year term as the park's superintendent will end at midnight Feb. 28, 2009.

In the months to come, both the park and foundation will undergo what foundation spokeswoman Dru Neil called a "natural transition."

Since 1998, the Gettysburg Foundation has raised money for construction of the new visitor center and other preservation efforts. The foundation is also responsible for operating the visitor center.

Major decisions -- such as the implementation of an admission fee at the museum -- have been Latschar's to make, however.

Not all of his decisions, such as the admission fee, have been popular.


Latschar has drawn critics on most major decisions, including demolition of the National Tower, landscape rehabilitation initiatives and plans to demolish the former visitor center and Cyclorama building.

But he's also been highly praised for his work to restore the battlefield to its 1863 appearance by those in the Civil War academic community and other government officials.

At the grand opening of the new museum and visitor center in September, Secretary of the Interior Dirk Kempthorne called Latschar a "national treasure."

Under Latschar's watch, a public/private partnership was established between the park and the Gettysburg Foundation. The partnership was deemed a model for other parks.

Latschar's 10 years of experience working with the foundation will make for a smooth transition, Neil said.

"John certainly has the experience and the know-how to facilitate that partnership," she said. "There really is no better person, in our eyes, to do this."

Neil said Wilburn -- who was not available for comment Friday -- had notified the board of directors about two months ago of his intent to move on so the foundation could begin searching for his replacement.

"I think he always thought that once the construction project was complete and the campaign was well along . . . that he would move on to different challenges," Neil said.

Wilburn came to Gettysburg in 2000 after leaving a position as president of the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation. He will remain on the Gettysburg Foundation's board of directors, Neil said.

She said she could not answer questions about Latschar's salary because the matter is a personnel issue for now. Latschar's salary will become public eventually, however. Last year, Wilburn made nearly $400,000.

As for the vacancy left by Latschar, his replacement will be chosen by Dennis Reidenbach, regional director for the National Park Service Northeast Region, after an extensive selection process.

The spokeswoman for that office, Joanne Blacoe, said the position is open to anyone but will be narrowed to highly qualified individuals. Latschar's replacement will not necessarily be named before his time as superintendent ends March 1, she said.

If a successor is not named before March, Blacoe said, a qualified person would fill the superintendent's position in the interim.

"The point is to get the best match for Gettysburg," she said.

Gettysburg National Military Park spokeswoman Katie Lawhon said the appointment of a new superintendent will not radically alter the park's responsibilities. Though different initiatives could be undertaken, Lawhon said, the park will stick to its general-management plan.

"It's more like a change in manager," she said. "It doesn't change the mission of the park."

Latschar said he expects his biggest challenge in replacing Wilburn will be learning how to raise funds.

During Wilburn's eight years as head of the organization, the Gettysburg Foundation has raised a total of $103 million toward construction of the visitor center and other preservation initiatives. The campaign's goal is $125 million, however.

As a federal employee, Latschar is prohibited from soliciting donations, one of the reasons behind the public/private partnership.

Because he will hold the position of superintendent until March, those stipulations apply for the next few months.