New director: Joliet museum busy, fun place
BY BOB OKON email@example.com July 21, 2013 9:24PM
Greg Peerbolte, new director of the Joliet Area Historical Museum, looks over the canal and prison exhibits from the museum's second-floor balcony. | Bob Okon~Sun-Times Media
‘Band’ exhibit recognized
The Joliet Area Historical Museum has received an Award of Merit from the American Association for State and Local History for its “Strike Up the Band” exhibit, according to a news release.
The organization’s Leadership in History Awards, now in its 68th year, are considered among the most prestigious recognition for achievement in the preservation and interpretation of state and local history.
Joliet’s High School Band is again receiving national honors, this time in the form of a special exhibit about its history, held at the Joliet Area Historical Museum. The exhibit, which highlighted the centennial of the Joliet Township High School Band, was featured at the museum from July 2012 to June 2013.
The Joliet Area Historical Museum was one of only two museums in the state to receive an Award of Merit.
Greg Peerbolte, the museum’s executive director, reflected on the project and the appropriateness of such an award.
“It was precisely because of the Joliet Township High School Band that Joliet was given the title of ‘City of Champions,’ so national recognition of an exhibit highlighting the rich history and storied legacy of the band is certainly fitting. The famous American composer John Philip Sousa himself once described them as the ‘best band in the land,’ ” Peerbolte said. “This award is something not just for the museum, but for the entire community of Joliet to be proud of, as the exhibit was truly a community project. Furthermore, it will help us build momentum on the overwhelmingly positive response the museum received from the public as we raise additional funds toward a permanent installation of the exhibit in our main gallery.”
The museum received a $61,000 grant from the Illinois Department of Natural Resources toward that goal, but the entire project, with the exhibit supplemented by the installation of audio-visual technology and web-based resources, is estimated at $80,000.
For more information on the award or exhibit, call
Updated: August 23, 2013 6:07AM
It has become clear to Greg Peerbolte, new executive director of the Joliet Area Historical Museum, in his first month on the job that the museum is a busy place.
“What’s impressed me is how active we are and how many events we do,” said Peerbolte, who came to Joliet in June from his previous position as executive director of the Mount Prospect Historical Society. That museum and others like it might hold one event a month, Peerbolte said, but, “Here, we have three or four events a month. And we do it with a small staff.”
As Peerbolte was interviewed on a recent Thursday, the museum was preparing for one of its summer Rooftop Concerts that night. It’s the sort of thing that Peerbolte is talking about.
The museum recently hosted a Fourth of July weekend event that included a two-day Civil War presentation, and this past weekend was scheduled to host a beer-tasting event, mixing a good time with Joliet’s brewery history.
Combining history with fun is not difficult, Peerbolte said, and he believes it’s one of the strengths of the Joliet museum.
“We really feel like we break cliches about museums being stuffy. We have a lot of fun here,” he said.
Peerbolte’s enthusiasm for the job helped him get it, said Ray Slattery, president of the museum board and a member of the search committee that looked at 29 resumes in hiring a new executive director.
“He had an enthusiasm that no one else had,” Slattery said. “Greg did his homework. He knew about the museum. He knew about the people on the board.”
Slattery described Peerbolte as “a good communicator” and hopes that, combined with his social media skills and youth (Peerbolte is 29), will help draw younger people to the museum.
Peerbolte is the third director of the museum, which opened in 2002. He replaces Tony Contos, who retired. Much of his assignment, Peerbolte said, is to build on what Contos did.
“Everyone here pretty universally agrees that Tony started an upswing here, and I want to keep moving it forward,” he said.
One plan he has, however, is to increase the use of social media to reach the public. Historic photos and images of artifacts can be displayed through social media and can be used to bring people into the museum, Peerbolte said.
Getting people through the doors is the ultimate goal. Peerbolte said the museum is striving for self-sufficiency, and getting more people into the museum is the way to do it.
“The message we need to get out to the public is we need them to come through the doors to support us,” he said. “We really feel that we are a public treasure, and we hope the public will embrace us.”
The city of Joliet supports the museum with $200,000 a year. But that is down from $350,000 in previous years. And when it came time last year to vote on an agreement for continued support, a 10-year agreement passed by a 5-to-4 vote. No council members suggested cutting off the museum from funds altogether, but several wanted a shorter term to the agreement.
The museum has a staff of five full-time and two part-time employees. Peerbolte has a yearly salary of $65,000.
While he is from out of town, Peerbolte has some local ties. A brother lives in Joliet. Peerbolte grew up in Kankakee County, and his family often came to Joliet to visit his late great-aunt, Sister Noel Dreska, who was head of the physics department at Lewis University in Romeoville for many years.
Peerbolte said the Joliet Area Historical Museum has a great reputation among professionals in the field and he hopes to broaden its appeal with the people in town.
“This is a prime example of what a museum can do,” he said, noting the many exhibits and interactive displays that help connect people with the city’s past that stretches back to the 1830s. “History is a key ingredient of any community. ... I think the museum reflects how far back we go.”