Geneva museum gets facelift

Special to the Tribune
Geneva History Museum gets "a playful, engaging exhibit that tells Geneva's story"

The Geneva History Museum has a new name, logo, color scheme and exhibit on the community's people and places.

Museum staff unveiled the new look Saturday at a "re-opening," and thanked the donors behind the revamping and also asked for another $50,000 to finish it off.

"It's a playful, engaging exhibit that tells Geneva's story," Executive Director Terry Emma said as she prepared to open the doors at the ribbon-cutting ceremony.

Inside the museum on Third Street are some artifacts featured in the former "Greetings From Geneva" exhibit that have been recast with modern touches. A tall silk hat of one of the Herringtons, Geneva's founding family, now sits inside a cabin reproduction, for example, while an iPad outside provides details for visitors. A video screen near a farming implement shows Geneva farmers from decades ago using it in the fields.

On hand for the festivities was Norma Jaeger, the widow of Dick Jaeger, a founder of the Geneva History Center. His daughter, Nan Jaeger, had connections with the Robinson Foundation, a nonprofit that agreed to give $30,000 to the history center if museum staff could raise another $30,000.

"That $30,000 snowballed into this grass roots effort," Emma said. Ultimately, $87,000 was lined up from the foundation and more than 70 donors. Chicago Scenic Studios then began refreshing the existing museum.

At the same time, Emma and the center were undergoing a "self-assessment" from the Association of Independent Museums. Emma said that as they looked at the center with new eyes, they realized they needed to be more clear about their purpose. The result? A name change from Geneva History Center to Geneva History Museum.

"Why are we hiding from what we are?" Emma said, noting that visitors were often confused as to whether they were a civic center or a chamber of commerce. "Museum only has to mean old and stodgy if we let it."

They selected a bright turquoise for the logo and interior of the museum and hired a graphic design firm to come up with a new logo. Next up is a massive organization of the thousands of artifacts stored in the basement, she said. The eventual goal is to become the only nationally accredited museum in Kane County, Emma said.

In the new exhibit, the town's story is told thematically, with some of the sections entitled "Take Me to Geneva," about the city's settlers, "Made in Geneva," about the city's manufacturing, and "Meet Me Downtown," with artifacts from downtown Geneva through the decades. There is an actual marquee — from the old Fargo Theater — that hangs in the corner with a large screen and seating beneath where visitors can sit and watch programming.

Emma said the next addition will be a story booth, where visitors can record their own "Geneva story," she said. Once donations are secured, sections on recreation and community service will be completed.

Ald. Ron Singer, a retired history teacher, attended the ribbon-cutting and said the exhibit provides an opportunity for newer Geneva residents to learn their town's history.

"This is an opportunity to get a sense of Geneva," Singer said, describing the new look as "astonishing."

Nan Jaeger said her father would be thrilled with the museum's refreshing.

"This is not a march of dates and names" but a vibrant story that can be updated for coming generations, she said. | Twitter @triblocal

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