BLOOMINGTON — Greg Koos is retiring from his leadership role with the McLean County Museum of History, but he's not finished with history.

During nearly four decades with the museum, Koos transformed the McLean County Historical Society operation into a nationally accredited museum, saw it move twice and advanced its technology to usher in a new era of teaching and promoting local history.

On March 31, Koos, 66, will finish his 38-year career with the museum, including 28 years as executive director.

The announcement follows completion of a three-year capital campaign that is expected to raise more than $3 million for improvements, new first-floor exhibits and increased educational programs at schools and nursing homes.

"Preparing the museum for its 21st century transformation is now complete," said Koos in a statement. "It is time for the next generation to set the direction. The museum staff and board are prepared and excited about the future. There could be no better time to turn over the reins."

The board voted on Wednesday to promote 38-year-old Director of Development Beth Whisman to succeed Koos as executive director. She will begin her new duties April 1, 2016. 

While he is leaving the museum, ”I’m not finished with history,” said Koos. “I will be writing a general history of McLean County. I intend on using our great collections which have been developed to tell the story of this place which continues to fascinate me.”

"He is a walking encyclopedia of McLean County history; we are thrilled he is writing a book to preserve what he knows," said Museum board president Carolyn Yockey.

Whisman has been with the museum since April 2013, when she was hired to implement the capital campaign and improve membership outreach and fundraising strategies. 

While she majored in broadcast journalism and communication at Eastern Kentucky University, history is a familiar subject.

"I grew up in the home of a history professor so I understand what makes history fans tick," said Whisman. "I was bitten by the bug at a pretty young age.

"Though I went into broadcasting for my career ... history and news go hand in hand," she added. "In many ways that's exactly what we're doing here. We are looking at news and stories and celebrities and everyday people from the past and helping tell their stories — just like you might as a news reporter or journalist —and making it relevant and making it interesting."

During Koos' tenure, the museum's annual budget and capacity for developing new exhibits and delivering educational programs and events has nearly tripled, said Yockey.

He started as a part-timer and by 1977, was a full-time archivist and site manager at the historical society's former home inside the McBarnes Memorial Building in downtown Bloomington.

In 1987, as he was preparing to take over as executive director following Barbara Dunbar, Koos led the transition and move into its current home inside the 1903 McLean County Courthouse. The re-utilization project was honored in 1993 by the American Association for State and Local History.

Koos also has curated multiple exhibits on local history, and working with Jack Moody, McLean County facilities manager, oversaw restoration of the courthouse dome — a project that earned the Landmarks Illinois Richard H. Dreihaus Award in 2005.

"It's remarkable the kind of regional museum we have here," said Bloomington Mayor Tari Renner. "The national recognition and accreditation is very unusual for any comparable museum anywhere in the country."

Renner said he worked with Koos for about a year to get the state to contribute $250,000 for the Route 66 visitors center that opened in April in the museum's lower level.

"That was great for the history museum and really great for our downtown," said Renner.

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Follow Maria Nagle on Twitter: @pg_nagle


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