Meet three key players for Cantigny museum renovation

Talk to anyone who worked on the transformational redesign of the First Division Museum at Cantigny Park in Wheaton and they'll tell you the project was a team effort.

It took hundreds of people - from designers and museum officials to craftsmen and construction workers - to update existing exhibits that tell the history of the U.S. Army's 1st Infantry Division, from its founding in 1917 to the present.

They also created new exhibits that greatly expand the story from the Gulf War and into the future.

But like any team, the renovation of the museum, which will reopen to the public on Saturday, Aug. 26, had its captains.

Here's a look at three people who played keys roles in the project:

AJ Goehle

Once the decision was made to proceed with the museum redesign, Luci Creative was brought on to help create a vision for what it would look like.

The Lincolnwood-based company worked to update the original exhibit gallery and make it more relevant to today's visitors. It also designed exhibits for a new gallery focusing on the First Division's more recent history.

AJ Goehle, director of strategy and design for Luci Creative, said she enjoys creating "meaningful experiences for visitors that connect them to things they never knew about before."

The challenge for this project? The new exhibit gallery has far less space than the building's other gallery.

"How do we tell a contemporary story in 2,500 square feet?" Goehle said.

Museum officials also needed the ability to update the exhibits, because the story of the Big Red One is ongoing.

So the gallery was designed to have different mission-based themes - military assistance, counter insurgency, battle, peacekeeping and deterrence.

"We were able to take the different history-based events that happened in the past 50 years and place them into those themes," Goehle said.

There are a number of interactive features, including touch screens and mock-ups of a Black Hawk helicopter and a Bradley Fighting Vehicle.

The replica of the Bradley Fighting Vehicle, for example, gives visitors the opportunity to experience a tank battle while listening to radio chatter recorded during Desert Storm.

Goehle said the new gallery looks exactly like what she and her colleagues at Luci Creative wanted it to look like.

"I hope people feel the same excitement about it as we do," she said, "because we are just so proud of it."

John Zurek

Long before dealing with subcontractors and construction deadlines, John Zurek was working in the world of finance.

But then - at age 41 - Zurek decided to switch careers and joined a small construction company.

Five years later, the now 46-year-old Zurek is working for Pepper Construction of Barrington, and says he's much happier than he used to be.

"When you're done with a project, you have this tangible thing that you were a part of," said Zurek, who lives in Lake in the Hills. "You get to show off what you've done."

When Pepper Construction was hired as the general contractor for the renovation of the First Division Museum, Zurek's boss assigned him to be the project manager.

Zurek says he was excited about the opportunity because he was very familiar with Cantigny Park.

"My father-in-law is a Navy veteran," Zurek said. "My father is a Vietnam veteran. This is a tribute to our military. Even though it's dedicated to the 1st Division, Cantigny is a tribute to all veterans.

"So it was important to me that I got this right," he said.

For months, Zurek has devoted most of his time to the Cantigny project.

He previously worked on hospitals and schools, and says the museum project is truly unique - and educational for him.

"It was a history lesson every time I was there," Zurek said.

Bill Brewster

As a child, Bill Brewster would look through footlockers that belonged to his grandfather who fought in both World Wars.

The experience helped him develop a lifelong fascination with military history.

Today, the 57-year-old Naperville resident has his dream job as curator of the First Division Museum. He's responsible for all the artifacts in the museum's collection.

He said he loves working with the veterans - and the families of veterans - who have donated items to the museum. He said the artifacts help the museum bring history to life, especially for young people.

"The way they teach history has changed," Brewster said. "Military history is not at the forefront. So our institution presents an opportunity for kids - and adults - to learn about history."

Now that the new exhibit gallery is completed, Brewster said the museum will be able to tell the story of the 1st Infantry Division from World War I to the present.

"That is huge," he said, "because we know that people are fighting, but we're not always fully aware of it. We're now able to put a face on the current generation of soldiers who have fought for us."

  AJ Goehle, director of strategy and design for Luci Creative, in the renovated First Division Museum at Cantigny Park in Wheaton. She helped design many of the new exhibits, including one that features a replica of a Bradley Fighting Vehicle. Bev Horne/
  John Zurek of Pepper Construction served as project manager for the renovation of the First Division Museum at Cantigny Park. Bev Horne/
  Bill Brewster of Naperville has spent the past six years as curator of the First Division Museum at Cantigny Park in Wheaton. He says the renovation of the museum was the culmination of nearly two years of planning and months of construction. Bev Horne/

If you go

What: First Division Museum reopening celebration

When: 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Saturday

Where: Cantigny Park, 1S151 Winfield Road, Wheaton

Details: 21-gun salute, photo booth, beer tent, food trucks, live music, inflatable obstacle course


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