Museum Announces Second Wave of Growth with Expansion and New Leadership

Wednesday, November 15, 2023 (Toledo, Ohio) – This morning the National Museum of the Great Lakes (NMGL) updated stakeholders and invited guests on their vision of continued growth through facility expansion and a new leadership structure. 

The “State of the Museum” update hosted in the Museum’s Theater Gallery began with a welcome by Board Chairman and President of Interlake Steamship Company Mark Barker. Presentations were then given from current Executive Director Chris Gillcrist and Senior Director of Institutional Advancement Kate Fineske, overviewing the organization’s first decade of growth in Toledo while introducing plans for a 5,000 square foot expansion. Finally, Board Vice Chair and Port of Monroe Director Paul LaMarre concluded the update by introducing a new organizational structure including the elevation of Kate Fineske as the museum’s new Executive Director effective January 1, 2024. 

“We’ve seen steady growth since opening our doors in Toledo nearly a decade ago and feel fortunate to have Kate Fineske’s leadership as we look towards our next decade of growth,” shared LaMarre, who has played an integral role in the museum’s growth and success since the early days of its inception. “When the museum’s longtime executive director Chris Gillcrist began conversations around his eventual retirement, there was not a doubt in our minds that Kate was the right individual to fill his shoes. The increased local visibility after the opening of Glass City Metroparks gave us confidence that the time was right to not just grow physically but also adjust our leadership in a way that will allow us to continue to grow our connections locally and across the Great Lakes region.” 

Beginning in the new year, Gillcrist, who has led the organization since 1999, will become Emeritus Director primarily focused on driving the museum’s historical programming. Fineske, who previously oversaw museum communications, fundraising and community partnerships, will assume the Executive Director role—steering the museum’s growth and operations and carrying out its mission according to the strategic direction of its board of directors. To support the museum’s unprecedented growth, the museum’s current Director of Education and Visitor Experience, Ellen Kennedy, will be elevated to Director of Museum Operations. 

In addition to announcing new leadership, the museum also shared museum expansion plans which are intended to break ground late in Spring of 2024. The expansion will provide additional permanent exhibit space, dedicated room for temporary exhibits, and a new Great Lakes Community Education Center, among other things. The expansion will further the museum’s vision of becoming the premiere place for Great Lakes conversations to take place.

“We started planning for this growth just prior to the pandemic with an anticipated cost of around $3.8 Million. Post pandemic era costs have caused that number to rise to $5.5 Million and, to date, we have raised over $4 Million of the necessary funds,” acknowledged Kate Fineske, who has been supporting fundraising efforts since she joined the team in 2019. “What’s more, we are extremely proud that over 75% of those funds raised are derived from sources outside of Lucas County—revenue directly benefiting the people of greater Toledo.” 

The organization has also secured over half a million dollars designated to further education growth connected to their expansion including a $100,000 gift from longtime supporters Todd and Molly Sommers and a transformational $500,000 gift from the Clement O Miniger Memorial Foundation. These gifts are meant to ensure Great Lakes History is accessible and understood for generations to come by providing funding for the educational aspects related to the expansion’s success beyond simply “bricks and mortar.”

The State of the Museum was recorded and available to view in its entirety to museum members and the public on our YouTube page here. 

About the National Museum of the Great Lakes: Founded in 1944, the Great Lakes Historical Society has been preserving our shared cultural history by publishing a quarterly journal Inland Seas® since 1945; by operating a maritime museum since 1952; by offering educational programs to the general public since 1956; by conducting underwater archaeological research across the Great Lakes since 2001; and by managing the Col. James M. Schoonmaker Museum Ship since 2014 and Museum Tug Ohio since 2019. The opening of the National Museum of the Great Lakes enables the Great Lakes Historical Society to continue its mission to preserve and make known the important history of the Great Lakes.

MEDIA CONTACT: Kate Fineske; 419.265.4967