Discovery museum

Children’s Discovery Museum celebrates 25th anniversary with two-part party


Most of the founding team who created the Children’s Discovery Museum 25 years ago will be honored in a two-part anniversary celebration this week at Normal.

The museum, which opened in 1994 in the former College Hills Mall, is now an anchor for the Uptown Normal redevelopment and recently welcomed its 2 millionth visitor.

Credit McLean County Museum of History


Shari Buckellew and Cheryl Denslow in 1992 at Cheryl’s kitchen table, discussing their big plans to start raising money for a children’s museum.

“The spirit of what we’re trying to do is say thank you. None of this happens in a vacuum,” said Beth Whisman, executive director of the City of Normal Cultural Arts Department and the Children’s Discovery Museum. . “You have to say thank you to donors and the community and families and elected officials, former staff, volunteers and interns. This (museum) is really what it is because all of these people have made a difference.”

Several of the museum’s original founders will be on hand to Thursday 25th Anniversary Celebration, including co-founder Shari Buckellew. She saw the need for a children’s museum in Bloomington-Normal in the 1980s, when she had young children of her own.

“I said something to a friend of mine, ‘This town really needs a children’s museum.’ Back then, people were like, “What is a children’s museum? “, Buckellew said. “And so it started a really long journey of educating people on what it was and trying to open one here.”

Buckellew began working with co-founder Cheryl Denslow to make this happen.

The museum opened at College Hills Mall, then moved to Constitution Place a year later. His current home in Uptown Normal opened in 2004.

In fact, the museum almost didn’t move to Uptown. It was revolving around a site near the Central Illinois Regional Airport in Bloomington when those working on the downtown redevelopment at the time turned to creating a family-friendly destination there.

Another decisive change was to bring the private museum under the City of Normal Parks and Recreation Department.

“There was a lot of physical and emotional energy put into it,” said Buckellew, also a former director of the museum.

Several other founders of the museum will be recognized Thursday, including Denslow, artist Herb Eaton, architect Doris Reeser, graphic designer Kathy Moore and early childhood education experts Andrea Ginnetti and Lynette Reiners. Without each of them, the museum’s future would have been very different, said Whisman.

“It’s kind of the who’s who of the community,” she said of the original team.

Thursday’s event will also focus on the future of the museum. The museum recently renovated the Imagine Air exhibit on the second floor. Design work is underway on the new Healthy Me medical exhibit, which will open in August 2020. The second-story agricultural exhibit and the third-story paint drop are also in need of rehabilitation, Whisman said. (Exhibits are privately funded; the City of Normal covers the costs of museum staff.)

Robert under the balloons

Credit Ryan Denham / WGLT



Robert Kohaus and his three daughters were recognized on June 26, 2019 as the two millionth visitor to the Children’s Discovery Museum in Uptown Normal.

“Two million kids love something, it will show,” she said.

As it has done in the past, the museum must be prepared to adapt, said Whisman. If Uptown 2.0 comes to fruition in its south, the museum may want to rework its outdoor exhibit space in its backyard, for example. They can’t build a fourth floor, but could the space on the roof be used for something else?

“Every floor has opportunities,” she said. “These are community members around the table, thinking about what’s best for our youngest learners, how we connect with the community and how we pay for it. “

Thursday’s 25th Anniversary includes breakfast at 7:30 a.m. at the Marriott Uptown Normal. The museum will be open for a special game night from 1 p.m. to 8 p.m., with a return prize of $ 3, door prizes and other special perks.


The full interview with WGLT.

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