In the seven years that Natalie Gacek has been an educator at the St. Charles Heritage Center, she has made a remarkable difference, not only locally but also statewide and regionally.
The Heritage Center, which is dedicated to collect, preserving and presenting St. Charles history, had been without an educator for five years. Gacek wasted no time in making connections with area grade schools. After surveying the third grade teachers from 10 schools, she began developing two in-class programs and one on-site program and tour. The response from the schools was immediate; classes were soon booking the Native American Traveling Trunk, the Early Settler/Pioneer Traveling Trunk, and the Museum Tour and Scavenger Hunt. These programs continue to be part of the standard curriculum for the third grade classes.
Gacek also revitalized interest in the Junior Historical Society, which started in the early 1990s as a group for students, ages 8-13, interested in history. The group today is more popular and successful than ever, with members participating in a variety of activities including scrapbooking and designing exhibits.
In 2005, the Illinois Association of Museums recognized the JHS with an Award of Excellence, the first of many such awards bestowed on the Heritage Center thanks to Gacek’s leadership. Gacek herself received the “Promising Leadership Award” from the Association of Midwest Museums in 2008.