With profile breakout at the end of the story.
The man who brought dinosaur fame to this city will say good-bye to Jane the T. rex and Rockford this fall to resume his personal life.
Lew Crampton, the leader of Burpee Museum of Natural History the past six years, is moving to Columbus, Ohio, where his wife, Kathleen, has run a health-care company for three years. The couple shared a home in Lake Geneva, Wis., on most weekends.
“It gets old,” Crampton said of the commuting. “My wife has always followed me around during my career, and now it’s my turn to be the trailing spouse. It’s about time to get it all back together.”
He will exit Burpee Oct. 1.
Crampton will leave a Burpee that grew from a museum unknown outside of the region to one that discovered a rare dinosaur, created an award-winning exhibit to show her off and starred in a national television special about it all.
He leaves as the museum continues its growth. A $10 million campaign to expand Burpee and the children’s museum, Discovery Center, is concluding this fall, with construction slated for 2008. One part of that will be a large assembly hall so the two museums can bring in blockbuster traveling exhibits.
There also are high hopes for future dinosaur digs in Montana and Utah, which could yield skeletons bigger and more attention-getting than Jane.
“The board brought me here to put Burpee on the map and, with a lot of help, we did just that,” Crampton said.
Jane, a rare juvenile T. rex ensconced in Burpee in 2005, remains the star. Her discovery entranced the city and, to some extent, dino-philes around the world.
As Crampton puts it, when he came, Burpee had a wonderful collection of exhibits and a recently revamped and enlarged building, the Solem Wing, named after donors Robert and Jane Solem. Staffers filled part of the space with a children’s gallery and other exhibits, but knew they didn’t have the kind of specimen that brings crowds again and again.
Crampton wasn’t the only one thinking, “If only we had a dinosaur.”
“All great natural history museums have dinosaurs because they are awesome and because they draw people,” he said.
So, he didn’t hesitate when a University of Wisconsin team told Burpee about a place called Hell Creek in Montana that was ripe for dinosaur digging. When staff members expressed an interest, Crampton turned them loose.
“We did it against all the odds,” he said. “We didn’t have the people who were qualified (by traditional standards) to do this work, but we figured it out.”
When they found a dinosaur that was difficult to identify, Crampton directed staff to make the most of the find. Jane was called the “mystery dinosaur.” Paleontologists from around the world argued whether she was a teenage Tyrannosaurus rex or a new genus called Nanotyrannus. What Crampton liked was that both specimens were rare.
That people got excited about Jane, not only local school kids and Burpee backers, but organizations such as cable TV’s Discovery Channel, which has repeatedly aired a documentary about Jane called “The Mystery Dinosaur.” People from around the world began traveling to Rockford once a year for Burpee’s PaleoFest, a weekend with dino events for everyone from kids to experts.
“What set us apart,” said Crampton, “was that we told stories about Jane and got people enthralled.”
While Jane got most of the headlines, Crampton tended to other parts of Burpee’s program and efforts to revitalize downtown. Burpee got a green roof, a model for what can be done to clean the environment and reduce energy costs. The museum holds “green days” each month when volunteers come in to keep the grounds clean and maintain habitats for butterflies, rabbits and other wildlife. Crampton is an active member of the River District Association and environmental organizations and can’t wait until the city develops a river path on Burpee’s shore line. Burpee’s mission remained education, and the number of schoolchildren visiting, some from the Chicago suburbs, grew to 25,000 a year.
There were some discouraging days, but Crampton said he and his staff have had fun.
“I have always loved it here,” he said. “There were difficult times, but we always had something going to build on. The rule we followed was, everything is negotiable except quality.”
His staff, including an ex-deputy sheriff who is now field boss of the dinosaur digs, picked up on his enthusiasm. “All I did,” said Crampton, “was encourage people to do their best.”
Now, he wants to once again live in the same city and home as his wife of 37 years, and figures he’ll find something to do in Columbus.
“Three years apart is enough. It will be nice to live with my wife,” he said. “But I love this place. Part of me really, really wants to stay here.”
Staff writer Geri Nikolai can be reached at 815-987-1337 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Profile: Lew Crampton
Family: Married for 37 years to Kathleen; they have a son in New York and a daughter in Washington, D.C.
May 2001-October 2007: Chief executive officer of Burpee Museum of Natural History, where attendance and revenue grew more than 200 percent during his tenure, partly because of the museum’s discovery of Jane, a rare, juvenile T. rex. Helped initiate a $10 million capital campaign, in conjunction with Discovery Center, for expansion of both museums.
1999-2001: Trustee and interim president of Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum, Chicago
1976-1998: Political work, including senior adviser for environmental issues to then-presidential candidate George H.W. Bush, congressional candidate in Massachusetts. Led Massachusetts Department of Community Affairs, was associate administrator at U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, worked in communications for Waste Management Inc. and American Medical Association