John Wille Selected as New Museum Curator

By John Wille

John Wille.pngThis past spring I was asked if I would like to be the curator of the Route 66 Museum and Hall of Fame in Pontiac. I was happy to accept the nomination. When the museum opened in June 2004 and for a number of years the curators were Durelle and Marilyn Pritchard. Since the Pritchards left the position, no one has served as curator until I was appointed.

I began volunteering at the museum beginning in late August 2011. I would come in to help out Jim Jones. I learned a great deal about the Museum and Hall of Fame and Route 66 from him. He is a great mentor! Also I learned a lot from Cathie Stevanovich and Marty Blitstein who have always been most helpful and generous with their time in helping me learn more about the museum and the Illinois Route 66 Association. I have found a great deal of pleasure and fun to be there talking with visitors from all over the world.

I have lived on or very near one or another of the variations of Route 66 in Pontiac since 1969. In addition, I taught in Dwight, Illinois for 32 years and drove old Route 66 back and forth just about every school day during that time. So I guess I have driven over 200,000 miles on the same section of Route 66 over and over. Beyond that segment from Pontiac to Dwight my wife and I have traveled much of Route 66 from Pontiac into Texas and some parts in New Mexico. My youngest daughter lives near Sayre, Oklahoma so we get an opportunity to travel the route on our visits down there.

Driving on Route 66 does not really qualify one to be a curator of the Route 66 Museum but I bring other qualities that will help me in this endeavor. I have a love of history and taught History at Dwight High School for 32 years, retiring in 2012. As a teacher I developed some skills that are useful for a curator. These included attention to detail, organization, enthusiasm for learning and helping others to learn, working collaboratively with colleagues, and the ability to tell the story of history. In the mid-1990s I was asked by the administration to develop another course offering in our department. I decided to create a state and local history class. One of the major units was means of transportation in Dwight and the rest of the state. Route 66 would play a huge part of that unit. I felt that I was picking up where one of my former colleagues, Dave Locke, had left off teaching about Route 66 in his U.S. History classes. This new class would give me the opportunity to give Route 66 a more prominent role because I spend more time on the subject. My connection to Route 66 is both physical and educational which I think are pluses for me as I begin as a curator.

The responsibilities of a curator seem to match my skills. The task involves receiving and evaluating potential loans and donations to see if they fit the objective of the museum, recording all loans and donations, overseeing the storage and display of items in our collection, and attending meetings and civic events to promote Route 66 and the museum.

I see my task as building on what has gone before me and to move into the future to keep what we have up-to-date and enjoyable for all the tourists/visitors we welcome every day. This is something I can do and enjoy doing – educating people about Route 66 and helping to preserve and pass on the memories of Route 66.

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