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The Willa Cather Foundation's programs and activities are implemented by a professional team of full- and part-time staff members. Please browse the profiles below to learn more about our staff.

Ashley Olson, Executive Director

Ashley Olson has been a member of the Willa Cather Foundation staff since 2008 and has served as the organization's Executive Director since 2014. Olson holds a degree in Business Administration from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and a certificate in fundraising management (CFM) from the University of Nebraska at Omaha. She oversees management and operation of the nation’s largest collection of nationally designated historic sites dedicated to an American author, including six properties owned by the Willa Cather Foundation and six sites known collectively as the Willa Cather State Historic Site, owned by the Nebraska State Historical Society.

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Tracy Tucker, Education Director & Archivist

Tracy Tucker joined the staff of the Willa Cather Foundation in 2012 as education director. A certified archivist, Tucker oversees the WCF collection and presents regularly on topics related to Cather, Great Plains literature and the physical and culural landscape. She is a graduate of Kansas State University and the University of Nebraska-Lincoln with degrees in American literature and creative writing, with a specialization in Great Plains studies. She is an Affiliate Fellow of the Center for Great Plains Studies.

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Jill Swartzendruber, Finance and Business Manager

Jill Swartzendruber joined the Willa Cather Foundation as the Finance and Business Manager in October of 2017. In this role, she supports the organization’s financial management, human resources, and administration while also working with the leadership team to oversee operations. Swartzendruber was raised in Shickley, Nebraska and holds a Bachelors of Arts Degree in Business Administration and Marketing from Doane College.

Jarrod McCartney, Heritage Tourism Development Director

Jarrod was named the Heritage Tourism Development Director effective June 22, 2015. McCartney's position is the result of a collaboration between the Willa Cather Foundation, the Red Cloud Community Foundation Fund, the City of Red Cloud, and the Red Cloud Area Chamber of Commerce, all of whom recognized the need for an economic development professional. McCartney holds a bachelor's degree in English and Philosophy from Hastings College, a Master's degree in English from Kansas State University and is a PhD candidate in English and Rural Studies at the University of Oklahoma. McCartney's academic work is centered on a political analysis of Cather's oeuvre, particularly her engagement with Populist rhetoric.

Contact Jarrod:

LauraLea Johnson, Administrative Assistant

LauraLea Johnson joined the Willa Cather Foundation in December of 2015 as the administrative assistant. Her prior not-for-profit experience includes a five-year stint as administrative assistant at the Crazy Horse Memorial Foundation in Custer, South Dakota. After attending Mid America Nazarene University in Olathe, Kansas, LauraLea spent fifteen years managing collectible and gift shops in Kansas and Florida.

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Cheryl Wilson, Buildings and Sites Curator

A member of the Foundation staff since 2007, Cheryl Wilson cares for facilities, the Cather Second Home Guest House, and conducts tours. Cheryl was born in Red Cloud and returned here to raise her three children. She operated a business in the community prior to beginning work at the Foundation and now takes great pride in preserving the Cather historic sites for future generations. She and her husband Dennis have eight grandchildren.

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Karin Prellwitz, Maintenance Assistant

Karin's primary responsibilities since joining the Foundation staff in 2000 have included mowing, painting, cleaning, and general maintenance of five historic properties owned by the Willa Cather Foundation and six historic properties owned by the Nebraska State Historical Society. After spending years in Alaska, Germany, and Texas, Karin returned to her hometown of Red Cloud. She has four children, six grandchildren, and one great granddaughter. Karin takes pleasure in the camaraderie and cooperation of the staff that works to preserve the Cather legacy.

Linda Hitchler, Tour Guide

Linda join the foundation staff in the fall of 2017. Born and raised in Red Cloud, she went out into the world for 20 years before she, and her husband Tom, returned to Red Cloud. The Hitchler’s together owned and operated The Palace Lounge and Steakhouse for 37 years.  Linda loves being a tour guide and meeting people from all over the country. She and Tom have four children and 2 grand grandchildren.

Rachel Olsen, Tour Guide

Rachel Olsen joined the Willa Cather Foundation as a tour guide in October 2017. A former college English teacher, she enjoys doing her part to preserve Cather’s rich literary history. In addition to her tour guide work, Rachel is also the owner and head barista of Prairie Plum Coffee, a mobile coffee service in Red Cloud. When she is not getting to know visitors or slinging coffee, Rachel serves on The Valley Child Development Center Board of Directors as secretary. Rachel loves cooking, yoga, and going to the movies, but she is happiest spending time with her husband and daughter.

Sylvia Andersen, Tour Guide

Sylvia Anderson has worked as a tour guide and gift shop clerk for the Foundation since 2005. Originally from Smith Center, Kansas, Sylvia most recently lived in Roswell, Georgia, and was a loan administrator for a bank. Following her retirement, she moved to Red Cloud. Sylvia enjoys meeting people who come into the Foundation. Sylvia has three daughters, a step-daughter, and a grandson.

Janice Hartman, Tour Guide

Janice joined the Foundation as a tour guide in 2016. She is retired from 39 years teaching in the Guide Rock Public School and Red Cloud Community School. Janice is active in her church and volunteers many hours. She is an officer on the Webster County Food Pantry and represents Guide Rock as a trustee for the Webster County Community Hospital. Janice also enjoys being part of community theatre. 

Priscilla Hollingshead, Tour Guide

Priscilla Hollingshead has worked as a tour guide at the Cather Foundation for 20 years. In addition, Priscilla designs the embroidered tea towels for the Foundation gift shop. Priscilla has lived all over the United States and worked in Civil Service in California. She then returned to her hometown of Inavale following her retirement. Priscilla has two daughters and one granddaughter. She likes meeting the people who visit the Foundation.

Barb Kudrna, Tour Guide

After an earlier stint as a volunteer at the Cather Foundation, Barb Kudrna began working part-time in 2003. Barb’s duties are varied as she leads tours, takes photographs, and decorates for special occasions. Barb and her husband Rick are busy with their two daughters, four grandchildren, and traveling. Barb makes time for her work at the Foundation as she enjoys meeting people from all over the world and sharing Cather history and stories with them.

Janet Maruhn, Tour Guide

Janet Maruhn was born and raised in the Red Cloud area. After working for 40 years, she and her husband, Leroy, now enjoy retirement by traveling to warmer places in the winter. She started with the Foundation in June 2015 as a part-time tour guide and is enjoying the worldwide guests who come to visit Red Cloud and view the various Willa Cather related buildings. 

Don Richards, Tour Guide

Don Richards was born in Osceola, Neb. and graduated from Red Cloud High School in 1966. Don served as the Registrar at Central Community College in Grand Island for 21 years and was a Social Science Instructor there for four years. His favorite Cather book is My Ántonia. Don started at the Cather Foundation as a tour guide in July 2016.