By Linda LambiotteDecember 22, 2017
ROCK ISLAND ARSENAL, Ill. -- Not everybody can say they were able to get a career out of their dream job. Kris Leinicke, director, Rock Island Arsenal Museum, actually got her chance.
Leinicke is set to retire after serving for 34 years at the Rock Island Arsenal Museum. She started as an exhibits specialist in 1983 and three years later, became a museum specialist.
She was promoted to museum director in 1999 and has held that position since. "My entire career has been spent within these four walls" Leinicke said.
Leinicke started working at the arsenal by coincidence. She was born and raised in Pennsylvania, but moved to the Quad Cities after getting married. As Leinicke was completing her master's degree in history museum studies with the Cooperstown Graduate Programs, State University of New York, she started looking for a job.
It took her a few years to find a job related to her degree, and that opportunity was here.
It was the first job Leinicke had applied for that called her back for an interview and eventually hired her.
"I only expected to be here for a couple of years and look, 34 years later!" Leinicke said.
"When I first started working at the museum, I didn't know anything about the Army or weapons," she said.
Her basic knowledge in how museums operate landed her the job that turned into her career. Her specialty was glass and ceramics, but her school background in museum studies helped her perform functions such as cataloging, registration and inventory.
Working at the RIA Museum presented Leinicke an opportunity to learn more about the military and about how museums work in military settings.
"This museum represents the importance of the Rock Island Arsenal as a whole," Leinicke said. "It is the second oldest U.S. Army museum, dating back to 1905.
"Even though there are things in the museum that are not related to the Rock Island Arsenal history per se, they belong to the U.S. Army history as a whole," Leinicke said. Even those without a military background can still learn about the Army from the many artifacts and documents found there.
"We are known as the gun museum," Leinicke said as she pointed at the weapons on a display wall.
Anybody who visits the museum for the first time is amazed by the volume of weapons displayed on the walls. Visitors can learn about the items that have been manufactured at the arsenal and about their contribution to the nation.
When Leinicke retires, she is planning on staying in the area and volunteering for local historical organizations.
Leinicke said she is ready for retirement. "A wise man once told me ... you know when it's time for someone else to pick up the mission and the vision of your museum," she said.
"There's a lot of changes going on, and it's time for somebody new to step in and do what it's expected through the Center of Military History," she added.
Leinicke discussed how the museum is planning on revamping several areas. Some of the plans include revitalizing exhibits halls and also enhancing exhibits and programming.
The Rock Island Arsenal Museum is a valuable resource for anybody who wants to learn more about local history.
Thousands of photographs, records of manufacturing processes, technical manuals, and other basic government publications comprise a wealth of information that is unique to Rock Island Arsenal.
Leinicke discussed some of her favorite artifacts. Major General John Buford's sword is one of them. Leinicke explained how Buford was the cavalry officer that established the Union line during the first day of the Battle of Gettysburg.
Gettysburg is not far from where Leinicke grew up. "It's like my little connection to this artifact," she said.
Other artifacts cherished by Leinicke are the work journals compiled by John Gamble, who worked as a guard at the Moline gate. Gamble was employed from about 1870 to 1920, she said.
"When you go through his journals, you almost feel like you knew him," Leinicke said.
Those journals are an exceptional resource because they describe in detail what happened at the arsenal, such as the Store House A burning and other events documented by local newspapers.
Leinicke is "starting to leave notes" for the person who is going to replace her. She has been sharing information about the duties of current personnel to make sure the next museum director will know as much as he or she can before taking over full time.
"I am going to miss not coming in here," Leinecke said.
Looking back, Leinicke said she has always been amazed by the depth and breadth of the historical significance of Rock Island Arsenal.
"I think we have a unique story to tell," she said.