Cody Youngblood never intended to be the director of his hero’s Leesburg estate. But a fortuitous job-seeking experience changed all that.
Youngblood recalls a trip to Mom’s Apple Pie in 2015 to apply for a job. Two weeks later, he found out the position had been filled. So he took a walk across Market Street to the big yellow house where Gen. George C. Marshall had lived. He saw they were looking for docents, and at the ripe age of 16, became Dodona Manor’s youngest volunteer docent.
“Sure enough, I fell in love with it,” he said.
Youngblood had been a history buff from a young age, with an especially deep appreciation for military history. In learning more about Marshall, whose Marshall Plan laid the foundation for Europe following World War II in the form of grants for economic recovery and infrastructure, he found a humble hero.
“Getting to know George C. Marshall really shaped who I am as a person,” he said. “It definitely prepared me for the world ahead of me—how to work through problems, how to deal with people, how to handle situations and come out humble and give credit where credit is due. He’s become my hero and I know he would hate that. I challenge myself daily to emulate his humble integrity and his silent service to his country.”
Youngblood spent the majority of his high school years as a docent before receiving a dream job offer the summer going into his senior year. The museum director had left, and the job was his if he wanted it. He has spent every summer since working full time at the museum and then switching to remote work during the school year.
Pat Daly then was the president and CEO of the George C. Marshall International Center when she offered the position to Youngblood. She said Youngblood is a special individual and was the perfect person for the job. She recalled meeting him as an interested young docent and how thrilled she and her staff were “to meet a young person who shared our passion for history and General Marshall.”
“We could not have known the incredible positive impact Cody would have on our unique house museum in Leesburg,” Daly said.
She pointed out his many contributions to the Marshall house, including his transformation of the third-floor storage room into a beautifully organized space to accommodate exhibits and artifacts that had been stored away for years. Daly also said his initiative of taking traveling exhibits to schools to bring Marshall’s legacy to children was not something the museum staff had undertaken prior.
“Cody’s selfless service to the George C. Marshall International Center would have delighted Gen. Marshall,” she said.
Now in his senior year at the University of Mary Washington, Youngblood was set this week to return to campus. Juggling life as a student and a museum director has been interesting at times, but enjoyable.
“Work here for me, it’s not really work. I’m a big nerd,” Youngblood said. “It’s my favorite pastime to work at Dodona Manor and research George Marshall and his life. I found that when I was stressed with schoolwork I could always come back to my Marshall work. It was a great decompressor because I just loved it so much.”
His work at Dodona Manor not only reinforced his love of history, but introduced him to historic preservation efforts, which quickly became a new passion and, eventually, his college major. His minor, unsurprisingly, is museum studies.
Youngblood reluctantly admits that his professors in the Department of Historic Preservation have told him it’s the first time they have had an undergraduate student who is also a museum director.
Showing a touch of his hero’s humility, “I hate tooting my own horn,” Youngblood emphasized, “but [my professors said] they’ve never seen anyone with this much experience, especially in a leadership position like this.”
In his years at Dodona, the now 21-year-old has worked on breathing life into Marshall’s home, setting out new exhibits and also securing object loans from other museums, both to draw in new and younger visitors, but also to encourage repeat visits.
“I really felt when I first came here that historic house museums are kind of like your grandma’s closet; they don’t really change and are boring for young people. But that’s not the case. They’re not static. They have a place in the community today,” Youngblood said.
He’s integrated in some simple touches within the estate to make it feel like a living, breathing museum. He moves things around, like setting the dining room for a formal dinner to make it appear that Gen. and Mrs. Marshall are readying for a party. He’s installed two recording boxes; one in the library plays a radio recording of the Brooklyn Dodgers winning the World Series. It’s quite possible that is where Marshall, an avid Dodgers fan, celebrated the victory.
“It brings the house to life,” he said.
He’s currently working on a 12-part video series that focuses on an object at a time, including Marshall’s home, to educate would-be museum visitors who can’t make the trip. It includes supplemental materials, and even scavenger hunts to get viewers more involved.
Youngblood also is working on a new exhibit about Catherine Marshall, and her life before and after her beau. While he is soon setting off for his final few months of undergraduate work, with a planned December graduation, he plans to continue working for Dodona remotely until he charts his next course post-graduation. Youngblood said he hopes to travel abroad to pursue a master’s degree, and hopes to be considered for a Marshall Scholarship, which funds up to 50 scholars a year to travel to the United Kingdom to pursue a graduate degree.
As he prepares to leave his workplace yet again and soon begin his own professional life, Youngblood remarked on what a special place the Marshall home is for Leesburg and beyond.
“It’s the biggest and the last monument to his personal life, and who he was as a person rather than a soldier statesman. It’s been truly a moving experience to see where this great leader comes to rest after a life of leading others,” he said.