Vigo County Historical Society Names Executive Director

Vigo County Historical Society Names Executive Director

An experienced museum professional has been named the new executive director of the Vigo County Historical Society and History Center, Board President Eric Parker announced today.

Kerri Wilhelm, a resident of Terre Haute since 2018, will assume the role on December 16. Current Executive Director Susan Tingley, who announced her plans to retire earlier this year, will assist with the transition by remaining as a part-time consultant into early 2021.

“The search committee was very impressed with Kerri’s extensive museum work and educational background in museum studies as well as her enthusiasm for the many opportunities the new History Center provides,” said Parker. “We are fortunate to have someone of this caliber already here in Terre Haute.”

Wilhelm earned a master’s in museum studies from George Washington University during which time she had the opportunity to intern and then serve as an independent contractor with the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History. She has also worked with the Texas Historical Commission and at university-based organizations including the Texas Archeological Research Laboratory and the Museum of Anthropological Archaeology at the
University of Michigan.

“I am very excited about being selected,” said Wilhelm. “I am a little anxious because the standard has been set so very high by Susan Tingley and her amazing accomplishments as Executive Director. However, I also view her tenure as an example of what is possible. It’s evident that the VCHS has a great staff in place who are knowledgeable and passionate about working at the History Center, as well as a Board of Directors who are committed to seeing it succeed and who bring their significant professional experience to bear in building and guiding the nonprofit toward that success. These are both valuable resources that will assist me in my
new role.”

Wilhelm, who currently works at Indiana State University, has also been doing some volunteer work with the History Center.

“My very first impression walking into the History Center was of being surprised, in a good way, by the unexpected high quality of both the space and the exhibits. It was like walking into a newfound exhibit hall at the National Museum of American History! It was abundantly clear that careful planning had gone into everything including such details as visitor flow, exhibit lighting and text selection,” said Wilhelm. “This History Center is not just a magnificent product, it’s a tremendous platform from which to launch any number of history and education programs to tell the many, many stories of our community. It is its own destination within Terre Haute, the State and the Midwest.”

Wilhelm is looking forward to working with the museum’s staff and volunteers to build upon the progress made over the last few years as the museum relocated last year from its former Victorian mansion site on South Sixth Street to the four-level History Center on Wabash Avenue.

“My very first priority will be letting the current staff know how grateful I am that they are there running the day-to-day operations and how much I am looking forward to working as a team toward our goals. Some of the priorities that I see in my new role include helping the VCHS achieve its short and long-term goals toward financial stability by applying for new grants and generating new donor leads and donations. Given the current financial stress that most nonprofits are operating under, I think that increasing memberships and finding new ways for memberships to be accessible to more people will be a priority.”

Another goal Wilhelm has involves developing a plan to prepare for potential disasters such as fires, floods, tornadoes, etc. “I believe that all museums should make emergency preparedness a priority, especially given the dramatic fluctuations in weather patterns over the past few years. A great amount of planning and financial resources have gone into realizing the History Center and making local history tangible, so protecting those investments by planning for disasters as opposed to reacting to the devastation they cause should be a priority,” she said.

Wilhelm indicated she has other goals in mind but wants to garner input from others before establishing priorities for the coming year.

“I would like the opportunity to meet with Susan and the staff, and the Board, to get a sense of what they see the priorities are so that I have the benefit of their perspective.”

The Vigo County History Center is located at 929 Wabash Avenue and is currently open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday.