Donations to spur tech advances at Naper Settlement
A plan to build a new welcome center that will bring the history at the Naper Settlement into the technology age of the future took a step forward Tuesday with the announcement of two donations totaling $1 million.
Gifts from the Tellabs Foundation and the Birck Family Foundation represent more than a quarter of the budget for the Heritage Gateway, a $3.7 million, 3,200-square-foot facility intended to open in 2019 to celebrate the museum's 50th anniversary.
"We couldn't be more thrilled," said Dave Kelsch, a board member of the Naperville Heritage Society, the nonprofit organization that runs the museum. "This will absolutely move us forward in a great way."
Kelsch is a co-chairman of the museum's Never Settle campaign, along with former Indian Prairie Unit District 204 Superintendent Kathy Birkett. The campaign envisions three major projects: the Heritage Gateway to welcome visitors and enhance technology; an agricultural interpretive center to focus on Naperville's farming history; and a replica of a downtown public square called Scott's Block to showcase 200 years of business and community innovation.
Kelsch said the Heritage Gateway will be a visible sign of changes to come and a new front door to the 12-acre museum at 523 S. Webster St. It also will feature a touch-screen wall where visitors, including 35,000 schoolchildren each year, can access stories of Naperville's history.
"The generation of today needs these stories to understand where we've been and give them the inspiration to change our future, to solve problems, to make the world a better place," Debbie Grinnell, vice president of advancement and campus development, said in a video to promote the project.
One of those stories will be of the telecommunications equipment company Tellabs, which Heritage Society board member Christopher Birck's father, Michael Birck, started with five others in 1975. The company went on to have a heavy presence in Naperville, Lisle and Bolingbrook, booming in the 1990s as it supplied local and long-distance phone companies, before selling itself to a private equity firm four years ago.
Birck said the Heritage Gateway differs from the educational or health-related projects the Tellabs Foundation typically supports, but he found it worthwhile because it can ensure Tellabs artifacts aren't lost -- and neither are stories of other firms along the I-88 technology corridor that fueled Naperville's boom into a major population hub.
Rena Tamayo-Calabrese, president and CEO of the Naper Settlement, called the gifts to support the Heritage Gateway "part of a dream coming true."