GENEVA – Terry Emma, one of six children, a third generation to live in Geneva and once a Geneva High School homecoming queen, became a different sort of homecoming queen Thursday night.
An astonished and tearful Emma was named the 2019 Wood Community Service Award winner Nov. 7 at a dinner held at the Eagle Brook Country Club in Geneva. The chamber gives the award to someone who has contributed to the growth and health of the Geneva community.
“I’m overwhelmed with joy and I’m not usually speechless,” Emma said. “When I sit there and look at that list (of Wood Award recipients) with all those people. I research these people all the time. And they are amazing. And I feel so humbled by this.”
When Emma was named executive director of the Geneva History Museum in 2011, her dedication and enthusiasm led the museum through new initiatives, promotions and rebranding.
Emma raised more than $200,000 in grants and donations and co-authored content to redesign the main gallery called Geneva’s Story.
Emma also volunteered for Geneva School District 304, Geneva Community Chest, Geneva Lions Club, Women of the Moose No. 152 and was recognized in 2014 as the Geneva Masonic Lodge No. 139 Citizen of the Year.
“When you need to get something done, there are certain people you know you can go to,” Chamber board president Scott Lebin said. “Terry is one of those people. She is completely available for any project that needs to be completed, and she has a difficult time saying no.”
Lebin also shared some humorous aspects of Emma’s leadership at the museum as in stating its hours.
“Open – when I wake up. Closed – when I go to sleep. When I’ve had enough, the museum is closed,” Lebin said.
A recent posting warned: “Please do not touch, lick, stroke or mount the exhibits,” Lebin said.
Terry Emma is married to Terry McCurdy.
“To distinguish one from the other in conversation, the family lovingly refers to them as Girl Terry and Boy Terry,” Lebin said.
A video montage of community members and family – including her siblings and three daughters – praised Emma and her work on behalf of Geneva.
“You are a rock star,” her sister-in-law Renee Emma said.
Glorianne Campbell, who serves on the museum board, said Emma’s skills with people enabled her to assemble an amazing team in their organization.
Emma’s efforts so raised the profile of Geneva’s small, independent museum that it earned former U.S. Rep. Randy Hultgren’s nomination for the 2015 National Medal of Museums and Libraries Award.
Geneva High School Principal Tom Rogers said when Emma was the activity director there for a time, “she was a student magnet.”
“We reached new heights for new ideas and initiatives during her time with us,” Rogers said.
Mike Simon, owner of The Little Traveler and a museum board member, also credited Emma's creativity and ideas in moving the museum forward.
“Since she became director, it has become one of the most respected regional museums in the Chicago area,” Simon said.
“She is justifiably proud of her family’s legacy on the city,” Simon said. "Both her mother and father’s contributions to the betterment of Geneva were enormous, and in many ways, this award is a thank you to them as well as to her."