Mike Krol might still be getting his feet wet as the new interim president and CEO of Naper Settlement, but he's not new to Naperville or the outdoor museum that tells its story.
The 28-year Naperville resident has been involved with the Naperville Heritage Society for a decade, including two stints on the board and a term as chairman. He also served as chairman of Naper Days when the event was revived from 2004-06.
"Naper Settlement is a community treasure and it's quite an honor to be part of this team," Krol said in a news release about his appointment. "I have a passion and love for history and I look forward to helping Naper Settlement continue to be a dynamic place 'where history comes to play.'"
Krol, who started May 1, takes over as the heritage society is preparing to do a nationwide search to replace former CEO and President Peggy Frank, who retired early this year after 33 years at Naper Settlement's helm and its first full-time employee.
Frank, who still serves as a consultant to the heritage society, said she thought the board had made a wise choice in selecting Krol to guide Naper Settlement through the transition period.
"He has a definite enthusiasm that he demonstrated many times as a volunteer before he joined the board of directors," Frank said. "He has seen all different sides of the organization, which I think is a real benefit."
Krol brings 40 years of business experience to his new role, having retired in 1999 from Illinois Bell and Ameritech, where he last served as vice president of sales and service for a 14-state area. So after retiring from one career why would he want to take this on -- a full-time job with an indefinite time frame?
"I can only play so much golf," said Krol, a serious golfer who reached a goal of playing in every state, and now plans to visit and photograph every national park. "Everyone asks me if it's an 8-to-5 job. It's eight (hours) and then some."
At Naper Settlement -- a re-created 19th century village located on 12 acres of city-owned property at 523 S. Webster St. -- Krol heads an organization with a $4.5 million budget, 50,000 artifacts, 44 full-time employees, 1,500 volunteers and ambitious capital plans.
A master plan rolled out by the heritage society several years ago calls for $30 million in improvements by the time Naperville celebrates its 200th anniversary in 2031. Krol said the settlement hopes to open an early childhood area that would incorporate the existing Fort Payne by next summer. The society has raised $140,000 of $340,000 needed for the project, to be called the Fort Payne Learning Playscape, Krol said.
The master plan also calls for replacing the settlement's existing firehouse with a replica of Naperville's first permanent firehouse, which stood across from where Lou Malnati's Pizzeria is now at 131 W. Jefferson Ave. (Lou Malnati's building also once served as a firehouse). The new firehouse would include exhibit space and be able to house Naperville's first motorized pumper as well as the Joe Naper hand-pumper that the settlement has now, Krol said.
The culminating capital project would be the re-creation of Scott's Block, a two-story commercial establishment that stood at the northeast corner of Jefferson Avenue and Washington Street from 1867 to the early 1970s. Storefronts representing businesses that used to operate in Naperville would offer merchandise for sale. Like the original Scott's Block, the upstairs would be a community gathering space, perhaps including a banquet hall and a place where plays could be staged, Krol said. He's quick to add the plans aren't final and if a banquet hall is built, Naper Settlement might partner with a business to operate it.
"We don't really want to compete with private businesses that support us," he said.
Seeking community partnerships is a lot of what Krol is about these days. He's working with the Naperville Area Chamber of Commerce to bring some of its functions to Naper Settlement, where chamber members also would be exposed to what the settlement has to offer. Krol said he also is looking at partnerships with hotels to house out-of-town guests who attend the 80 weddings a year held in Naper Settlement's Century Memorial Chapel.
"We're a good economic engine here," he said. "It drives business to the downtown area."
People and programs
But the heart of Naper Settlement is more than its buildings, Krol said.
"We have a lot of wonderful buildings here, but the history of Naperville is about the people who built those buildings and what … their lives (were) like," he said.
Museum educators and volunteers help bring that history alive. Of Naper Settlement's 118,000 visitors last year, 32,500 were schoolchildren from 11 counties. The settlement also offers Camp Naper summer day camps. Krol said he would like program funding to expand so disadvantaged children could attend the summer camps. Adding a culinary element to the camps also might be a possibility, he said.
Nancy Smith, Naper Settlement's director of learning experiences, said she appreciates having Krol's fresh perspective on the settlement's programs and services.
"Everything is continuing along the path we want it to, full-speed ahead. Naper Settlement is buzzing with activity all summer and Mike is a big part of that," she said.
The settlement again will hold its Naper Nights concerts on three weekends this summer, with the first on Friday and Saturday, June 21 and 22. Krol said the popular concerts are revenue-raisers for the settlement. American English, a Beatles tribute band, will lead off the series June 21. Krol recalled seeing small children dance to the music of American English a previous year.
"It makes you feel really good to see people enjoying that," he said.
A native of the South suburbs who moved to Naperville from Springfield 28 years ago, Krol said Naperville is a community that supports its nonprofits. He and his wife, Maureen, had made plans to move this spring but found themselves reluctant to leave the amenities Naperville has to offer.
"He's just excited. He loves history. He loves the town of Naperville," Maureen said. "He looks at this as giving back to the city."
Krol, the former chairman of the board for Little Friends, said the Naperville Heritage Society, like other nonprofits, has been affected by the challenging economic climate of the past several years. But he points out that Naper Settlement sold nearly 700 memberships last year. Attendance among Naperville residents, who are given free admission, also is increasing, he said. In addition to memberships and programs, Naper Settlement gains its funding from donations, foundations and grants.
"We just have to be out there working it," Krol said. "We have a good story and we think we have great programs here. If you've got that, people will support you."