By editorial board • 

Time for all of us to celebrate museum’s new lease on life

News that Bill Stoller had emerged as the white knight purchaser of Evergreen Space & Aviation Museum properties out of bankruptcy was dampened by the fact there could be no on-site celebration. After all, the museum complex has been empty for several weeks under a gubernatorial order handed down in response to the coronavirus pandemic.

Not that Stoller would have planned one for himself. The highly accomplished entrepreneur, known for his humility, isn’t one to shine the limelight on himself or engage in grandstanding.

But when the museum is allowed to reopen, McMinnville should do everything possible to show its appreciation.

Increasing membership and paid visits remain vitally important to the institution’s short- and long-term health, and here all of us can play a role. Perhaps we could stash a little of that stimulus check and plan a visit to celebrate the dawning of a new day at this iconic institution.

By summer — when life is, fingers crossed, back to some semblance of normal — a major bash is due. Fittingly, the museum will be celebrating its 20th anniversary and the museum water park its 10th.

The spectacular display of aircraft, history, science, education, entertainment and wonderment in our own backyard has been overshadowed for years by bankruptcies, attorney general investigations and governance overhauls. That changed last week, when Stoller’s McMinnville Properties Ltd. purchased the space museum, the water park, a future lodge site, the chapel turned events center and surrounding farmland.

Excitement and relief were common reactions. Locals celebrated the news from home, on social media, knowing Stoller’s presence adds something the museum has not had since the Great Recession — stability. 

That’s not to say everything will be all smooth sailing and clear skies.

Even when operations resume, the effects of the COVID-19 shutdown will continue to be felt for many months. And bringing all of the complex under one umbrella, including the air museum and IMAX building currently owned by Maine businessman George Schott, is an even longer-term vision.

Community partnerships appear to be a crucial component, going forward.

The museum’s community outreach has left much to be desired. But we expect that to change under the new owner, a Dayton native who’s become a major philanthropist to his home county. While waiting for the green light to begin revisiting the museum, we should be finding ways to stimulate relationships between the museum and larger community.

Kudos go to many for helping facilitate this transaction, but special recognition goes to Museum Director John Rasmussen, who’s been steering an awfully large ship through awfully turbulent waters. His legacy with the museum may never be as renowned as that of Stoller or founder Del Smith, but he has played an essential role  in ensuring this treasure has a destiny.

At one time, it was difficult for many to envision any future for the museum, let alone the “200-year vision” Stoller is discussing. The newfound hope deserves all the accolades it’s receiving, and eventually a big celebration.


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