During his time with the Museum of Idaho, Nick Gailey has worn many hats. He’s served as the museum’s director of programs, exhibits, marketing and development — sometimes concurrently.
Gailey is retiring at the end of December, and to honor him for his nearly two decades of service, the museum has named a hall after him, the first such gesture at the institution.
It all began with an expansion of the Bonneville Museum, which was housed in the old Carnegie Library and run by volunteers of the Bonneville Historical Society.
“In early 2000, Gregg Carr, who was raised in Idaho Falls and had become quite wealthy, was wanting to expand the Historical Society, and the board agreed,” Gailey told EastIdahoNews.com. “Mr. Carr, with the Carr Foundation, expanded the Bonneville Museum by building the first expansion. The Historical Society went from about 10,000 square feet to about 35,000 square feet and had a pretty large exhibition hall. So the thought was to expand the mission of the historical society by bringing in international traveling exhibits.”
Expanding the museum’s size and mission necessitated hiring full-time staff members to handle the day-to-day operations of the museum. David Pennock was hired as the museum’s executive director in 2001, followed by Gailey’s hiring in 2002.
The museum staff started small.
“There was David as executive director,” Gailey said. “I had a pretty all-encompassing title called ‘program director.’ And we had a secretary who assisted everybody. So it was David, David’s assistant and myself.”
Although the staff was small, they thought big, opening the museum with The “A T-Rex Named Sue” exhibit in 2003.
“We had about a year to get ready,” Gailey said. “And, of course, the town and the state had never seen anything like this. This was a big operation to bring in this world-class dinosaur from the Field Museum in Chicago.”
During these formative days, Gailey took on many roles and tasks.
“My responsibilities there were pretty well overwhelming to me,” he said. “I was doing the marketing, I was doing the promotions, I was in charge of the exhibit, I was in charge of the public relations and overseeing the security, the volunteers and the museum store. Fortunately, there were some wonderful volunteers who had incredible expertise in many of those areas.”
“A T-Rex Named Sue” opened the Museum of Idaho with a huge bang, bringing in more than 118,000 visitors during Sue’s three-and-a-half month stay. The success of the exhibit launched the museum toward what it’s evolved into today. Along the way, Gailey has helped to bring in exhibits, raise millions of dollars and plan for the future of the museum.
Gailey’s skills and abilities contributed to every facet of the museum’s development, and his departure leaves some huge shoes that will need filling.
“I think Nick has always had an acute vision for the future of the museum and what it needed to thrive and be sustainable for generations,” said the museum’s grant writer and Gailey’s successor, Kim Lee. “He built relationships with donors of all types, from a few hundred dollars a year to several hundred thousand dollars.”
Lee said Gailey was a key part of the museum’s success.
“He was key in securing the funding necessary for the new expansion. He was key with David Pennock in getting the sustainability count going,” Lee said. “Once the expansion was done, he shifted his focus to ‘Way Out West’ and getting the Idaho exhibit revamped. We would not be where we are now without Nick’s keen insight and his work ethic.”