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A Museum's Oxymoron

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Chris Shires - Gilmore Car Museum

The Gilmore Car Museum in Hickory Corners, MI is just north of Kalamazoo and is considered North America's Largest Auto Museum, but it isn't nearly as much about cars as you might think. I know, that sounds like an oxymoron and certainly not what you'd expect to hear from their marketing director.

Please let me explain a bit.

The Museum just celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2016. And you'll find more than 400 extraordinary vehicles ranging from horseless carriages to classic Duesenbergs, the elusive Tucker, the Model T Ford and Muscle Cars of the 1960s and '70s. The property is a 90-acre Historic Campus home to several structures from bygone days, including four vintage car dealerships, a 1930s gas station and an authentic 1940s diner that serves lunch.

It really is the perfect place for reliving memories or making few new ones - about cars - but that's still not what we’re all about.

The Gilmore Car Museum tells America's story through the automobile. Rather than just sharing sticker prices, horsepower or available options, each vehicle displayed at the museum has its own unique tale to tell.

Maybe it's the telling of how four young dreamers started a car company in 1903, the same year as Cadillac and Ford began, only to move on to become world leaders in unrelated fields. Or how distracted driving takes on a completely different meaning when visitors actually get behind the wheel of a 100-year-old Model T Ford and learn to drive "old school." Or perhaps it's the "eureka moment" of discovering that the automobile made it possible for our great-grandparents to explore beyond their own hometowns and pursue the American dream.

The automobile is truly the "vehicle" we use to share America's story.

So, when long-time Executive Director Michael Spezia announced his pending retirement, the Gilmore Car Museum Board of Trustees knew the difficult task ahead of them. They began an exhaustive nationwide search for the perfect candidate: someone with the skills to manage the day-to-day-operations of an organization with the reputation of the Gilmore Car Museum, expand the museum and its community relations and, most important, the ability to maintain our cultural philosophy of storytelling.

Bill Parfet, Chairman of the foundation which operates the Gilmore Car Museum and grandson of its founder Donald Gilmore, announced in December of 2016 the appointment of Chris Shires as our new Executive Director.

Shires most recently served as director of the Holland (MI) Historical Trust. He has a strong background in museums and community relations, and also brings a wealth of museum operating experience to our organization.

Most important, however, is Chris' passion for sharing history.

He is a native of Maryland and holds a Bachelor's Degree in History from Marshall University in Huntington, WV and a Master of Arts in History and a Graduate Certificate in Museum Studies from the University of Missouri - St. Louis.

Shires joined the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center in Cincinnati, OH a year before it opened to the public in 2004. He went on to serve six years there, first as Interpretive Services Manager and later as Director of Exhibits, Education, and Programs. In 2009 Shires became Director of Interpretation and Programs for the historic Edsel and Eleanor Ford House in Grosse Pointe Shores, MI. He was appointed to the post of Executive Director of the Holland Historic Trust three years ago.

"The Holland Museum is a wonderful museum and community resource," Chris stated when he announced his acceptance of his new position with the Gilmore Car Museum via a press release in December.

Shires joined the Gilmore on January 3, 2017 and has jumped right in with developing future exhibits and educational ideas, as well as getting out into the community. His passion for history is obvious when you spend any amount of time with him. Through that passion, which he's had as far back as he can remember, he has grown to love the stories behind artifacts as much as the objects themselves. Chris is genuinely thrilled by the chance to continue to pursue something that he enjoys so immensely: "sharing the stories from history and becoming a part of the Gilmore Car Museum team."

Chris, his wife Greta, and their two young children have purchased their new home in Oshtemo Township.

"Besides the opportunity to join such a world-class museum, the lure of the Kalamazoo Promise and securing the educational future for our children, made it an easy decision to become part of this community," Shires shared.

So, there's my explanation of the Gilmore Car Museum's oxymoron: telling the stories of America through the automobile, not just displaying world-class autos. Perhaps as our new director, Chris Shires, builds on the foundation of the Museum's previous success, another oxymoron for us could be that we're looking to the future to do an even better job of telling the story of the past. Join us soon!

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