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Morris named to head Riverfront Museum

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The Peoria Riverfront Museum decided to stay home for its new leader this time.

John Morris of Peoria, a former Peoria City Councilman and current director of The Ronald W. Reagan Society at Eureka College, was announced as the new president and CEO of the museum, beginning April 10.  

Morris, who once worked at Lakeview Museum, was selected after a national search that began with the resignation last October of Sam Gappmayer, who took a position at the John Michael Kohler Museum in Sheboygan, Wisconsin, after less than three years in Peoria. Gappmayer came to Peoria from Colorado Springs, Colorado.

The search was conducted by Kittleman & Associates and the museum’s board of directors, which voted unanimously to offer the position to Morris, said chairman Sid Ruckriegel.

The board said Morris’s experience as a philanthropic administrator who has held management and board roles in public media, higher education and the arts, and served in public office, all served him well in the search process.

“We are pleased to welcome John Morris to Peoria Riverfront Museum,” said Ruckriegel. “John brings not only his fundraising experience but, having started his career at Lakeview Museum, he also understands the key role that the museum can play in the future vitality of Peoria.

“The museum has increasingly become a place for our community to enjoy new and meaningful experiences, to learn hands-on and to grow. Just this past Sunday (Feb. 19) during Engineering Day, more than 3,700 people filled the halls,” said Ruckriegel. “John is dedicated to building on that momentum.”

Morris, a Peoria resident, is a 25-year veteran of higher education, cultural and civic philanthropy, and nonprofit management. He began his career as the development director for the museum’s predecessor, Lakeview Museum of Arts and Sciences, where he created the first major giving society and raised funds to secure more than 25 exhibitions and programs.

For the past decade, Morris has been at Eureka College as director of the Ronald W. Reagan Society – the only national donor network of its kind in higher education. Working with Eureka’s former president J. David Arnold, Ph.D., and current president Jamel Santa Cruze Wright, Ph.D., Morris built key partnerships with presidential libraries and scholars, and helped create the Mark R. Shenkman Reagan Research Center.

"The Peoria Riverfront Museum board has an exciting vision to serve all Central Illinoisans with the finest multidisciplinary museum in the nation,” said Morris. “It will be a great honor of my professional career to work with museum staff, donors, community partners and the public to help achieve this vision.

“I’m committed to the museum’s mission as we focus on people and how we can use our museum to tell the stories that unleash their full potential," said Morris.

Morris also spent 10 years as vice president of WTVP, Peoria’s public television station, where he led fundraising efforts that included two capital campaigns for one of the nation’s first digital stations and the current riverfront studio.

Morris served two terms as an at-large Peoria city councilman (1999-2007). He was an early advocate for riverfront development, and a supporter of the public library and the arts.

Morris holds Master of Public Administration and Bachelor of Arts degrees from The George Washington University in D.C., where he was a White House intern. His wife Cindy Morris is president of the Peoria Public Schools Foundation. Their son and daughter attend Eureka College. 

Morris will take over from current interim president & CEO Debbie Ritschel, who was lauded by Ruckriegel for her work.

“The board and staff will always remain grateful to Debbie Ritschel, who has stepped in twice to serve as our interim director,” said Ruckriegel. “She has served and continues to serve not just our museum but also our entire community in many ways.”

About the Author
Paul Gordon is the editor of The Peorian after spending 29 years of indentured servitude at the Peoria Journal Star. He’s an award-winning writer, raconteur and song-and-dance man. He also went to a high school whose team name is the Alices (that’s Vincennes Lincoln High School in Indiana; you can look it up).