Elgin Public Museum gets more support from city

  • Joe Sarr recently was hired as coordinator for the Elgin Public Museum, which this year has a balanced budget after reducing full-time staffing and increasing reliance on board members and volunteers.

      Joe Sarr recently was hired as coordinator for the Elgin Public Museum, which this year has a balanced budget after reducing full-time staffing and increasing reliance on board members and volunteers. Rick West | Staff Photographer

 
 
Updated 2/13/2020 5:43 PM

The Elgin Public Museum got a vote of confidence from the Elgin City Council with an increase in the city's annual contribution.

The council unanimously voted Wednesday to contribute $60,000 -- up from $54,000 in recent years -- for the museum to provide exhibits and programming in anthropology and natural history. The increase reflects increases to the state's minimum wage.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

The decision came after the council observed a moment of silence to remember former museum executive director Peggie Stromberg, who died Monday. Stromberg retired in June while suffering from health issues after 22 years at the museum's helm, and amid a push from the city for change.

The museum operated at an average annual loss of nearly $46,000 from 2016 to 2019 and heavily dipped into its endowment reserves, said board member Phil Steder.

This year's budget projects a $2,150 surplus. Expenses were slashed from an average $123,000 to $87,950 by reducing staffing costs and increasing reliance on board members and volunteers, Steder said.

"We want to realign and make sure we are a sustainable organization going forward," he said. "We don't want have to worry about running out of money. We want to be here for the long run, here for another 100 years."

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The city also plans a $16,000 contract with the Elgin Historical Society, which operates the Elgin History Museum, to provide assistance for one year to the Elgin Public Museum as it retools its operations.

This is a "building year" after much turnover since fall 2018, board Vice President Judy Hayner said.

The board hired Maria Wojtas in August to be executive director, but Wojtas left in January. The job has been eliminated. Joe Sarr was hired as museum coordinator, joining education coordinator Sharry Blazier, educator Marge Fox and a desk attendant. All positions are part time.

The new board president is Georgie Camacho, and new board members include Barb Keselica, the city's assistant director of parks and recreation, and Breanne Moreno, who works for the Elgin Area Convention and Visitors Bureau.

"We have a vision for the future and we have already seen significant results from the work of our staff and board," Hayner said.

The museum plans more membership drives and fundraising events, including a partnership with two local breweries that will produce a special beer benefiting the museum, she said. It will apply for grants, including from the Grand Victoria Foundation, she said.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

The museum is preparing to celebrate its 100th anniversary this year. It opened Nov. 12, 1920, as the Elgin Audubon Museum and changed its name in 1975.

Work is underway on a centennial celebration, a new "Mystery Tour," an Earth Day celebration in April and programs in conjunction with Lords Park Zoo, Blazier said. The museum plans to add Spanish-language signage for exhibits and may offer Spanish-language tours, she said.

"We are changing a lot of things in the exhibits, things that haven't been changed in years. We want to add new visuals," she said. "The fact that it's our 100th year -- we really want to remind people of who we are and how long we've been here."

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