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updated: 7/14/2014 5:21 AM

New leader to 'build on the vision' of Naper Settlement

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  • Rena Tamayo-Calabrese of Naperville starts today as the new Naper Settlement president and CEO. She says she looks forward to building on the museum's ability to tell Naperville's story as a microcosm of American history.

       Rena Tamayo-Calabrese of Naperville starts today as the new Naper Settlement president and CEO. She says she looks forward to building on the museum's ability to tell Naperville's story as a microcosm of American history.
    Marie Wilson | Staff Photographer

  • Rena Tamayo-Calabrese

      Rena Tamayo-Calabrese

  • Video: Telling America's story

 
 

The task of telling the story of America through the lens of Naperville begins today for Rena Tamayo-Calabrese.

When the Naperville lawyer steps into her first day as president and CEO of Naper Settlement, the city's living history museum, she will be excited for "the privilege to tell the story about America right here in my hometown."

"It's not just a great story about Naperville or how Naperville settled or what Mr. (Joseph) Naper did. It's truly about what's at the heart of being an American," said Tamayo-Calabrese, 49. "Coming in as an immigrant, getting an opportunity, building something, somebody else comes in and builds it bigger, and you just keep on going. You see this transition between this agricultural society into this farming community into this suburb and then into this very beautiful city that has national impact, and in a positive way."

Watch Tamayo-Calabrese at work and it's easy to see she's a "passionate person."

Those who hired her to become the settlement's third leader, and only the second to hold the position on a permanent, full-time basis, said it's easy to see how she will help the museum do everything it's doing now -- just a little bigger and a little better.

"She brings a lot of expertise, and just the way she thinks is a breath of fresh air into our current goals," said Steve Grosskopf, chairman of the committee that worked with a search firm to find Tamayo-Calabrese. "She lets us envision things a little bit bigger."

Among the museum's projects are several initiatives Tamayo-Calabrese says will continue to tell the Naperville version of the American story: Completion of the Rita (Fredenhagen) and John Harvard Early Learning Playscape, development of more museum space, a fire house and an agricultural history center, and possible creation of a heritage walk to bring Naperville history outside the settlement and onto city streets.

"I love to build things that are greater than I am, bigger than I am," Tamayo-Calabrese said.

A Naperville resident for more than 20 years, Tamayo-Calabrese is a lawyer who has litigated cases, worked for 15 years directing several departments at the American Bar Association in Chicago and served as executive director of the National Association of Women Lawyers.

Born in Ecuador to parents who met in Spain, Tamayo-Calabrese came to the Chicago area when she was 9.

At the heart of her passion for law is an interest in "how societies organize themselves to live peacefully," Tamayo-Calabrese said.

Visitors to the settlement at 523 S. Webster St. can learn about the organization of agricultural, Victorian and immigrant societies. Soon, she said, the settlement will look to add artifacts from 1900s societies to that list.

"One of the things that we're looking to do is begin to include things from the 20th century, because it is time to tell that story," Tamayo-Calabrese said. "That's how we build on the vision of those people who first came here to settle into this area. We want to tell their story, because their story is a lot bigger and greater than anything they ever imagined. And we're the stewards of that."

Tamayo-Calabrese said she remembers her first visit to Naper Settlement with the oldest of her three daughters, who now are 26, 15 and 14. Her daughter enjoyed learning a dance in the chapel and eating tiny, round cucumber sandwiches.

Later, her middle daughter liked learning to make butter so much that the family carries on the tradition at every holiday.

Coming to the settlement "was a way for me to connect with my daughters," Tamayo-Calabrese said.

Stewards of the settlement say their new leader has the persuasive skills necessary to be a successful fundraiser, the management skills necessary to direct a large organization and the personality to continue building partnerships within the community.

Tamayo-Calabrese follows Interim President and CEO Mike Krol, who served for 14 months after the retirement of longtime settlement President and CEO Peggy Frank, who held the role for 33 years.

"She's very engaging," Grosskopf said about the museum's new leader. "And we couldn't be happier."

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