The DuPage Children's Museum was open for just four months when Susan Broad took the administrative reins on April Fools' Day in 1992.
Located in the lower level of Wheaton Park District's Community Center on Blanchard Road, the fledgling facility was serving as a kind of pilot museum, a place to test exhibits and build support for a more permanent location.
But even in those early days, Broad says, visitors were lining up to get inside and it was clear the founders, Louise Beem and Dorothy Carpenter, had a clear idea of how to provide educational opportunities for children and a "really wonderful vision" for the museum.
What they didn't have was someone with a background in administration and fundraising to keep the project on track.
They hoped Broad, who had experience operating a women's center in Wisconsin and helping Family Shelter Service expand from Glen Ellyn into new shelters in Naperville and Wheaton, was the right choice.
They were right.
Now, after more than 22 years as the museum's president and CEO -- during which it moved into a 46,000-square-foot former lumber yard at 301 N. Washington St. in Naperville; saw annual attendance regularly top 300,000; and won national acclaim for innovation -- Broad says she plans to retire at the end of January.
"It's been quite a ride," she said Tuesday, "and it's been fascinating to watch the museum develop."
Looking back on it, she says serving the museum after years in victim services seems like a natural progression.
"I kept coming back to how important children's early years were to the things I was trying to unravel at the other end," she said.
"From a small pilot operation in a 5,000-square-foot space with two part-time staff, (the museum) has now become a nationally awarded force for early learning and one of the most-visited cultural and tourist attractions in the Chicago region," museum board Chairman David Carpenter said in a written statement.
The museum also offers outreach programs in more than 100 schools, he said, and serves youngsters and their families in five counties: DuPage, Western Cook, Kane, Will and parts of Lake.
The hunt for Broad's replacement will begin almost immediately and she will assist the search committee.
"These jobs are very demanding," she said, "but they tend to evolve around your own strengths."
The new CEO will have to lead the museum's next phase of development, she said, and work with the community to develop a new master plan for the museum. Exactly what that master plan should entail, she's not willing to say.
If there's one attribute the new CEO needs, though, it's optimism.
"You have to be able to see the potential," Broad said, "whether it's in children, in the institution or in the parents you're working with."
She says the museum's greatest advancements over the past two decades have come in its development of original interpretive exhibits and "creating a groundbreaking environment for children."
The museum is also an "economic engine" for the county, she says, generating roughly $19 million a year for DuPage County and especially Naperville.
But keeping the facility going hasn't always been easy. The terrorist attacks of 2001, for example, came just months after the Naperville facility opened, plunging the area into an economic downturn that came just as the museum was trying to raise more than $9 million.
She says museum officials often joke that the only problem with the institution is its name. Because of "DuPage," she says, some people often don't fully appreciate its reach. Because of "Children's," they often don't realize it also provides services for adults. And because of "Museum," they sometimes think it's a static place where everything is behind glass cases instead of the active, hands-on place it truly is.
As she looks toward retirement, Broad, 66, says she hopes her tenure will be remembered most for "improving the educational opportunities for children."
Carpenter said he thinks she'll be remembered for much more.
"Sue," he said, "has led the establishment of all the important components needed for continued success: nationally recognized programming for effective early learning; research-based, original, interactive learning exhibits; measurable economic impact on our regional service area; and a powerful team of talented staff and thousands of dedicated members, volunteers and supporters."