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NORMAL — Dean Messinger can't think of anywhere his contributions will help more people than the Children's Discovery Museum.

"I can't think of an area where there's more traffic and children get benefit from, all over the community," said the Bloomington man. "It gets them exposed to nonacademic stuff, gets them real-life experience."

That's why Messinger and his wife, Pat, are longtime contributors to the Normal institution, and why they decided to step up for its latest project.

The couple has pledged $6,000 — doubled to $12,000 with Caterpillar's company match — for "Healthy Me!" It is a planned overhaul to the museum's first-floor medical exhibit to be completed in 2020.

The museum has raised 60 percent of a $350,000 goal, thanks in large part to OSF HealthCare, but it is making a six-month push for the rest, starting with an announcement at Saturday's Doctors in Concert fundraiser.

While the facility may carry over some elements of its "Inside Me" medical exhibit, the installation is badly in need of an overhaul after serving for the 15 years since CDM opened at 101 E. Beaufort St., said Executive Director Beth Whisman.

Whisman hopes the refreshed exhibit will better serve kids who can become more comfortable as patients or get interested in careers by interacting with safe medical equipment and concepts.

"What a kid learns in this museum could save a life, could just improve the quality of life. It might even help a parent, if their kid asks, 'Why don't I go to the dentist?'" said Whisman.

"One of our donors has worked in pediatrics and loved it when she saw the exam table (in the exhibit plans). She said, 'When the child's feet leave the floor, that's when they feel like they've lost control,' and we can help with that," Whisman added.

When Dean Messinger saw the faux ambulance in the revamped exhibit, the Bloomington fire commissioner knew it could be a big help for kids.

"I was a volunteer fireman a long time ago. Most fire departments, about 85 percent of their calls are for rescue response, so for kids to see an ambulance or a rescue vehicle coming and understand what it's for and what those people do has so much value," he said.

The exhibit could be closed for a month but double to 1,000 square feet.

Whisman, who's also rolled out an updated "ImagineAir" exhibit since becoming CDM's leader a year ago, said she hopes "Healthy Me!" will be the next step in overhauling several museum exhibits over a decade-long period. She hopes to next tackle the signature "Climber," and later the ag exhibit.

None of that is possible, however, without private donations. The museum is run and funded by the town of Normal but relies on other funding for exhibits.

That's a major focus of CDM's foundation and its board, which was down to four members shortly after Whisman started but now has 14 of 15 slots filled.

"We welcome any support, even if it's just a few dollars," she said. "You can spread it over years. ... Sometimes people even put us in their will."

The museum also is gearing up for a 25th anniversary celebration this fall.

The Messingers said they look forward to visiting the updated exhibit with their four grandchildren, J.D., Abbie, Julia and Shelby, who come to the museum a lot when they visit.

"It's a great place for grandparents, plus it serves underserved children," said Pat Messinger. "I know the museum depends on personal contributions as well as grants and city support. ... We're thrilled to do our part."

Contact Derek Beigh at (309) 820-3234. Follow him on Twitter: @pg_beigh

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