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New director embraces museum experience

May 4, 2011
By DIANE SPEER - News Lifestyles Editor , The Alpena News

Already into her fourth week on the job as the new executive director of the Besser Museum for Northeast Michigan, Elaine Grehl's enthusiasm remains high, especially for the upcoming grand opening of the outdoor Lafarge Fossil Park, the many school field trips taking place this month at the museum, and a staff she views as highly creative and energetic.

Since coming to Alpena, Grehl has immersed herself in the museum. In the process, she's studied up on the facility's namesake, Jesse Besser, gleaning from printed materials what she views as his spirit of innovation and adaptability.

"I'm really taken with him," Grehl said. "He was such an innovator and he had endurance when one door closed, he'd find another. I like his legacy and his heritage."

Article Photos

News Photo by Diane Speer
Besser Museum Executive Director Elaine Grehl, officially on the job since April 11, looks over an exhibit focusing on the museum’s namesake, Jesse Besser.

She believes in the importance of being mindful of the past, including Jesse Besser's past.

"If we don't remind ourselves how we got here, maybe our future decisions aren't as solid," Grehl said. "I want to make sure that we still capture that spirit of innovation and adaptability."

Grehl signed on as executive director just in time for the June opening of the museum's exciting outdoor Lafarge Fossil Park. The park project, made possible through the generosity of Lafarge and a number of other partners, is a major new exhibit that will provide a hands-on educational experience focused on the area's fossil-rich limestone deposits, the history of the local cement industry and its important economic impact in the region.

"The LaFarge Fossil Park is one step, well a giant leap rather, toward our over-arching goal of realizing Jesse Besser's vision of 'a living museum,' a campus that demonstrates the art, history, and science of Northeast Michigan," said Grehl.

Besides her enthusiasm for this newest exhibit venture, she also is pleased that so many area students are taking field trips in May to the museum. Over 1,200 students from preschool through junior high are scheduled for an educational field trip. The students represent nine difference schools, including from Rogers City and Lewiston, and they will be studying a variety of different subjects.

Additionally, Grehl said, an astronomy class and an introduction to physical science class at Alpena Community College have been meeting at the museum all of which demonstrate that the museum is place where others can learn.

She attributes many of the positives currently taking place at the museum to an outstanding staff.

"I have been so impressed with this staff," Grehl said. "They are so creative and passionate and dedicated. I'm absolutely blown away by them. Their enthusiasm is really contagious. It would be a lot harder without their energy."

During her first few weeks on the job, Grehl has started to explore possible foundation grant sources, has created a detailed annual calendar and has begun looking at possible future programs, such as summer day camp for children.

In her down time, she and her husband, Tree, have been exploring the immediate area. Both share an interest in the native plant life and are rock collecting enthusiasts.

"We love all the outdoor recreational opportunities here," said Grehl. "We love the beach and the waterways you can paddle in."

She also has been impressed with the friendliness of the community. Prior to coming to Alpena, she was associated with the Vermont Institute of Natural Science, but also has worked or gone to school in Chicago and Pennsylvania.

"I can't tell you how much we appreciate how friendly people are," she said. "Everyone is so warm and welcoming here. We never had that in Chicago or Vermont or Pennsylvania."

A public open house to meet the museum's new executive director is planned for May 21 from 2-4 p.m. For more information, contact the museum at 356-2202.



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