Ike Library renovates to increase relevancy

ABILENE — The Eisenhower Presidential Library and Museum will undergo a multimillion-dollar renovation in an effort to keep the country's 34th president relevant to a younger generation, museum officials said. The renovation, which will take several years, will include major architectural, lighting and technology upgrades in each of the galleries to make them more interactive and viewer-friendly. Also, thousands of artifacts, documents and photographs will be periodically rotated.

"It's a long-term overhaul, but (Eisenhower) was one of the most beloved presidents of all time, and we want this to be a premier presidential library," museum director Karl Weissenbach said.

"You have to make changes and renovations to keep yourself relevant. You have to keep your product fresh or people won't come back."

The Eisenhower Presidential Foundation, comprised of Eisenhower family members and appointed members, will drive national and international funding and recognition programs for the facility. The Abilene Council will focus on local and regional fundraising, and be a conduit between the local community and national board.

"We're here to raise the visibility of Ike in Kansas and, even to some degree, in Abilene," said Abilene resident Bruce Dale, chairman of the Abilene Council. "The initial goal is to get in front of service organizations and clubs so we can talk about how Ike is still a relevant figure and give them lots of reasons to get involved in the museum and library."

The museum currently has about 70,000 artifacts and about 350,000 photographs but the public generally can see only 2 percent of the collection at one time, said Samantha Kenner, communications director at the library and museum.

The museum's Temporary Gallery, which will feature a rotation of original exhibits, is already being renovated.

Beginning May 21, the gallery will open what Weissenbach called its most ambitious exhibit: "Eisenhower: Agent of Change," a look at Eisenhower's eight years in the presidency. It will include discussion of civil rights issues, the founding of NASA and implementing the interstate highway system during the Eisenhower administration.

A rotation of artifacts will continue in the museum's three permanent galleries: the Mamie Eisenhower Gallery, the Military Gallery and the Presidential Gallery, as well as Eisenhower's boyhood home.

A long-term goal is to create the Eisenhower Leadership Gallery, which Weissenbach said will focus on qualities of leadership Eisenhower displayed during World War II and his presidency.

Weissenbach said he is hopeful the renovations will make the museum and library a destination for national and international visitors of all ages.

"Last year, we had our highest attendance since the Eisenhower centennial in 1990," Weissenbach said. "We're hoping to have high numbers again this year and in the future."