GETTING OFF THE GROUND: Air museum not swimming in money, but its financial condition is improving

Rantoul Press editor

Perhaps state and federal governments could take a cue from the Chanute Air Museum.

The museum has gone from an operation bleeding red ink to one that is in the pink — or make that in the black.  

The museum has transformed from being in danger of closure because of poor finances just two years ago to having money in the bank.

Nancy Kobel, museum board  president, credits the board as well as staff and volunteers for the turnaround.

“We are operating in the black,” Kobel said. “I’m thrilled about that.”

She admitted that the museum still has “a long way to go” financially but added, “I sat here, and when I heard that (the museum was in the black), I said, ‘Wow! In just a little over two years we have really turned a corner here.’”

Kobel credits good decision-making for the patient getting off life support and breathing on his own.

“It’s not just the board,” she said. “The staff has been very much involved. We take their ideas and suggestions as to how we’re spending our money and what our needs are here.”

An example is a billboard that the museum was renting space on in Indiana for $500 a month. Staff felt it wasn’t worth the cost.

“When you have more pressing priorities, you have to rethink things,” Kobel said.

Another example is the decision to buy the museum’s phone system instead of renting it.

“When that contract was up it was cheap enough to purchase our phone system outright,” Kobel said, “and that’s not money that we’re having to pay out every month.

“That money can go to curation and the gift shop.”

The expansion of the gift shop — doubling its size — was another decision that has proved to be sound, Kobel said. The gift shop has turned into a money maker.

Another boost has been Curator Mark Hanson’s securing of grant money for museum preservation purposes.

“With grants you typically have to show 12-18 months of financial stability before they consider your proposal,” Kobel said.

The museum has a better chance of obtaining such grants if it continues to operate with a sound budget.

The museum will continue to do well if events such as last weekend’s Thanksgiving Family Fun Days continue to be a success. Several hundred people visited to see the museum’s newly developed Chanute timeline and the new DC-9 flight simulator as well as other attractions.

Despite the optimism, the public shouldn’t get the idea that the museum has stacks of greenbacks in its safe.

“We’re not flush with big bucks to do whatever we want,” Kobel said, “but things are going in the right direction.”

The museum has one full-time employee, Hanson. Robin Calhoon, the new event coordinator, is a part-time employee as is bookkeeper Carol Potts.

The museum relies a great deal on volunteers, but the board is finding that “the days of people volunteering are going by the wayside,” Kobel said.  

“I know other organizations feel the same issue pop up. We are grateful for the people who do volunteer.”

Most of the museum’s volunteers are retirees, but retirees have lives, too, and often have other things they want to be doing. That makes it difficult to find enough people to man the museum at times.  

 Kobel said the board is considering bringing in a “day-to-day” manager. That position could be filled either with a full-time person or more than one part-timer.

“Some of that will depend on who applies, what their availability might be,” Kobel said. “If we could find someone who would be a great find and they could only work part time, then we might also look for another person who can also work part time.”

The board also wants to develop a team arrangement so that employees can back each other up if one of them has to be gone.

That won’t include the curator’s job, which is specialized, but will involve many other jobs at the museum.

While the museum appears to be heading in the right direction financially, the question of where it will call home remains uncertain.

The museum is housed in Grissom Hall, which also houses classes for Lincoln’s Challenge Academy and Rantoul Theatre Group’s Grissom Hall Theatre.

Village officials have said they will close down the aging building when Lincoln’s Challenge Academy’s new campus is built in the next few years. That will leave the air museum and theater group looking for new digs.


The Chanute Air Museum board has two new members — Steve Gray and Allen Jones Sr.

Board President Nancy Kobel said Gray has an interest in military history and aviation.

“He was very much interested in keeping the museum going,” Kobel said.

Gray is past president of the Rantoul Area Chamber of Commerce, was a member of the Rantoul Fire and Police Commission for 15 years and has been sales manager and business manager of Capitol Car Credit in Rantoul for 16 years.

Jones was a 30-year member of the Rantoul Police Department, rising from dispatcher to police chief.

He was executive director of Rantoul Area Chamber of Commerce, worked in human resources for Champaign County Sheriff’s Office, served as interim athletic director at Rantoul Township High School, has been active as a coach for the RTHS, junior high and American Legion baseball programs and operates an embroidery business.

Other members of the board besides Kobel, are the Rev. Jeffray Greene, Don Ross and Fred Meek.
The board is in need of a seventh member. Anyone interested in serving on the board may call the air museum.

Dave Hinton


Categories (2):News, Parks and Recreation


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