Lisle museum welcomes new curator
The Museums at Lisle Station Park's new curator, William "Buddy" Avila, values the museum as a great repository for local history. In a history museum, written sources from the past are presented with a tangible three-dimensional component.
"My plan is to focus the energies of the museum on preserving and communicating the stories of the Lisle community," he said.
Avila hopes to involve many Lisle residents with his first major exhibit on "America's Pastimes," which will take a broad look at the history of sports in Lisle during its run from May 28 through early November.
"I am looking for any insight into Lisle's athletic history," Avila said. "I hope to actively involve residents in the preparation of this exhibit through loaning sport memorabilia and/or coming in for an interview to tell their local sport stories."
Residents can call the museum at (630) 968-0499 or write to email@example.com to schedule an interview. Avila hopes to display photos, trophies, uniforms, equipment, programs and anything else that addresses sports in Lisle.
Whether as a participant or spectator, a sports exhibition will tell Lisle's story.
"Critical in a successful exhibit is having a topic that touches people's interests and connects with them," Avila said. "It needs to contain the right balance of education and entertainment."
In Lisle, as at all museums, exhibits arise out of the focus and mission of the museum. Each is a balance to engage the community with a museum's collection through telling stories that resonate with the history of the area.
"Trying to have something that can promote historical analysis while not putting people to sleep is always a great challenge," Avila said.
As the new museum curator, Avila brings to his position a master's degree in history from Northern Illinois University, as well as certificates of graduate studies in both museum studies and women studies. He started his job with a week of training at the end of December before the previous curator moved with her family out of state.
Although Avila grew up near the historical area in suburban Lombard, he knew Lisle more for the Morton Arboretum and large track meets at Benet Academy than for its community museum.
"My first impression (of the Museums at Lisle Station Park) was how large it is for a local history museum," Avila said. "There is a really nice campus, grounds and gardens that are all historically accurate to the mid-1800s. It has outstanding collections, especially in terms of the railroad history of the area."
During his years of study, Avila spent a lot of time interning and volunteering at museums. In an industry that prizes experience, he amassed a wide-ranging base. Although the job description of museum curator often is very focused, in Lisle, it is a jack-of-all-trades.
"The curator at this museum is a very broad title performing duties such as museum educator, artifact curating, collections management and facilities management," said Avila, who describes himself as detailed-oriented and a history enthusiast.
The historic museum has a rich history of voluntarism that Avila calls a "team effort."
"This museum would not even be here if it were not for the Lisle Heritage Society, because they were instrumental in saving, preserving and restoring the structures that are on-site," Avila said. "They did that by entering into a partnership with the village of Lisle and the Lisle Park District that has really benefited all parties over the years."
Community groups such as the Lisle Heritage Society, blacksmith volunteers, a group of model railroad engineers and museum volunteers all contribute time and energy that allows the museum to flourish.
On the grounds, the blacksmith barn, circa 1800s, was carefully restored and re-created in Lisle from its origin in Wisconsin. The original board-and-batten CB&Q Railroad Lisle Depot is from 1874 and also housed the station master's family and town's post office. The Netzley/Yender House is a preserved Lisle farmhouse, and the Beaubien Tavern once served as a toll station on Plank Road, present day Ogden Avenue.
"Here at the museum, we were at the crossroads of travel with Plank Road and the railroad coming through town," Avila said. "The idea that Lisle was a day's journey from Chicago is pretty remarkable. None of the settlements in this area would have been possible without the transportation history."
Avila's favorite items in the museum's collection, so far, are the three handcars that were generally used to ferry railroad maintenance workers from place to place.
"I have a soft spot for the handcars that we have," Avila said. "The reason why I like the handcar so much is because it is very unusual looking to our modern eyes and its design strikes me as being the railroad equivalent of a go-cart. They were probably a ton of fun to drive!"
One motorized handcar is on display in front of the depot, another is being restored and the third is a manual handcar, the kind often seen in cartoons.
"The manual handcar is completely restored and we are just waiting while we figure out how we can have the people view it while we protect it more from the elements so we do not have to do another restoration project on it," Avila said.
Donations or loans to the Museums at Lisle Station Park go through the collections committee, which manages the intake of new artifacts. The process makes sure items fit the scope of the museum. The committee is a merger of park district employees, heritage society members and the curator.
The current need of the museum is to add updated storage that could make the collection more accessible and manageable while being archaically correct.
"Donations or loans are a great way to get items that have a connection to Lisle families," Avila said. "We take a look at all items and make sure it is right for our museum."
The Museums at Lisle Station Park campus is at 921 School St. in downtown Lisle. Museum hours are 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Tuesday and Saturday. After Memorial Day, it is open also Thursdays from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Private tours can be arranged at other times.
• Joan Broz writes about Lisle. Her column appears regularly in Neighbor.