All are invited to a public memorial service for Joy Matthiessen, former executive director of the Des Plaines History Center, at the Prairie Lakes Community Center, 515 E. Thacker St., at 9:45 a.m. Saturday.
Matthiessen was hired in 1989 after completing her Master's Degree in Historic Administration from Eastern Illinois University, but her love for history reached back farther.
Growing up in Chicago, Matthiessen would later recall the sense of place from spying the copper dome of the iconic Earle House at the corner of River Road and Miner Street, now the site of the Landmark condominium building.
She was an avid Girl Scout, and created a popular exhibit on scouting in Des Plaines.
She went on to receive her Bachelor's Degree in History from Roosevelt University. Matthiessen also performed internships at the Missouri Historical Society and Henry Ford Museum, and worked in the collections department at the Arlington Heights Historical Society.
Matthiessen's hiring marked the beginning of a new era for the Des Plaines Historical Society. Previous directors had lacked formal training in museum administration, and most only served for a few years. Her judgment, wisdom, empathy and professionalism allowed the organization to blossom. During her tenure the Historical Society grew into the History Center, added facilities and professional staff. Collections were reorganized to make them more accessible, and items once thought lost were rediscovered.
Under Matthiessen’s leadership programs became more extensive and gave the community more opportunities to experience Des Plaines history.
The History Center began moving into the adjacent Des Plaines Savings & Loan building in 2001, which had more space for archives, offices, and temporary exhibits. As a result, the Kinder House was restored into a house museum.
Also in 2001 the Fisher-Wright house was donated to the Historical Society for use as an arts space. Soon after, the museum was re-branded as the Des Plaines History Center to better reflect its nature. The brand was adopted by the entire organization in 2010.
Matthiessen was recognized for her work in 2000 when the Illinois Association of Museums gave her the "Professional of the Year" award. In 2004 the association awarded the organization the "Outstanding Midsize Facility" award, and in 2005 Eastern Illinois University gave Matthiessen presented her with the "Outstanding Graduate Alumna" award.
After being diagnosed with cancer in 2003 Matthiessen calmly continued her work, only pausing when treatments demanded it. She continued her involvement in other organizations as well, including the Illinois Association of Museums, the Illinois Heritage Association and the North Eastern Illinois Historic Council.
Matthiessen continued coordinating History Center activities with community organizations, including the Des Plaines Chamber of Commerce and Industry, the Des Plaines City Streetscape and Holiday Decorating committees and the Kiwanis Club. She supported cooperative activities with the Des Plaines Public Library, the Senior Center and the Jaycees.
Matthiessen was engaged in the planning of Independence Day activities, the Taste of Des Plaines, the Des Plaines Holiday Lighting Ceremony, New Year’s Eve celebrations and Fall Fest.
Matthiessen entered an extended medical leave beginning in October 2010, and Shari Caine, archives manager since 1997, was appointed Interim Director. Caine was appointed Executive Director following Matthiessen's July retirement.
Caine said over the years Joy's vision for the History Center paid off in a number of ways. With her foresight and professional knowledge, she was able to increase personnel to include professionally trained staff working in historical collections and programs, and made improvements to exhibits and educational activities on a limited budget, she said.
Throughout her illness, Joy also worked proactively with members the Board of Trustees, the City, and the Park District, to ensure that the History Center would continue operating, Caine said.
“It was through her determination that the History Center grew and stayed actively engaged in the community," Caine said.
Caine said the Des Plaines History Center plans to commemorate Matthiessen's 22 years of service with a special ceremony at the History Center’s facilities later this year.
For more information on Saturday's memorial, contact the Des Plaines History Center.