After a 27-year career in state government, Maynard Crossland quietly cleaned out his desk at the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency and left. With his departure, announced by the agency on Aug. 30, Crossland became the second IHPA director to leave since construction of the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum began in 2001.
In an interview late last week, his first since leaving IHPA, Crossland predicted success for the new presidential complex -- and expressed his hope that its success won't come at the expense of the state's other historical programs.
During recent budget difficulties, Crossland says, the state's commitment to the presidential complex remained steadfast, but "resources for all the other programs kept shrinking."
Commitment is a central theme with Crossland, a native of Bowen who set his sights on a career of state service during his undergraduate studies at Western Illinois University, where he majored in political science and communications.
"My dream was to join state government and come work in Springfield," he says. "My family thought I was crazy, but that's what I'd wanted to do since I was a kid."
It took nearly a year and a half after college, but Crossland finally landed a job with the Governor's Office of Manpower and Human Development in 1977. Soon he moved to the Governor's Employment and Training Council. In 1982 he became director of extension services for the Illinois State Historical Library. When Gov. Jim Thompson created the IHPA in 1985, Crossland became the new agency's executive assistant. From 1990 to 2002, Susan Mogerman was its director. She resigned on short notice in 2002, citing (but not disclosing) personal reasons, and Crossland succeeded her. Nearly 20 years with the agency has given him perspective on the critical role played by history in the development of the state.
"Illinois history is a powerful force," he says. "We can use it to improve our lives in many ways, but I don't think the political system in this state has really got its arms around that idea, and we haven't done a good job of explaining it to the decision-makers. They're grappling with public safety, abused children, seniors who can't afford their medication. Too many times, history is seen as icing on the cake. It's nice, but it's really not necessary if you're on a diet."
Crossland came face to face with that reality soon after becoming director. With budget deficits and the economic downturn, most state agencies had to pare back. Then came early retirements. IHPA lost 33 employees to this initiative and could not replace them. Overall, the agency's staff level has fallen from a high of 250 to about 180 today.
"It was like we were pulling from one side of the fence to shore up the other," Crossland says. "The state's commitment to the presidential complex remained steadfast, but resources for all the other programs kept shrinking." One result is that many state historic sites are now open only five days a week instead of seven.
"You look at the presidential library, the resources that are going into it, and see how beautiful it is," Crossland says, "but does that excuse the need to support other programs? Have we done our thing by doing a presidential library? It's dangerous to think that. There's so much more that needs to be told. There's so much more that needs to be preserved."
Even so, Crossland remained a loyal and effective supporter of the new complex. At the hectic end of its 2002 session, the General Assembly passed legislation officially giving control of the library and museum to the board that manages IHPA. This made it the only presidential library in the country to be operated by state government. Most are run by the National Archives and foundations.
The presidential library would establish its collection primarily by subsuming the 16-million-item collection of the Illinois State Historical Library. With that so simply handled, supporters had opportunity to emphasize the museum -- a growing trend in presidential complexes.
As a longtime promoter of historical tourism, Crossland supported this emphasis. He envisioned visitors fanning out to other Lincoln attractions in the state. But he counts his efforts to ensure the long-term safety of the historical library's collection as his proudest accomplishment.
"When I became director, the temperature and humidity controls at the presidential library quickly became the number-one problem on my desk," he says. "Agency staff who know how such things work told me this one wouldn't. I supported them. The architects, the mechanical engineers, and the state's Capital Development Board didn't think there would be a problem. I was told to 'Wait until we get in there.'
"This tested me by fire. I had to stand firm that we weren't going to accept the new building until they proved that the temperature and humidity controls would work. Sometimes I wasn't too sure where I got the intestinal fortitude to do that, but I didn't think I had a choice. The library's facility under the Old State Capitol met archival standards. We weren't about to move to a facility that didn't."
The CDB eventually sent in a team of experts that backed up the position taken by Crossland and staff. Improvements were ordered that took a year and a half to complete. Last month the collection's move finally began.
"I feel vindicated," Crossland says. "I should get an honorary degree in mechanical engineering." But prophets run an occupational risk. That's why his late-August call from Julie Cellini, chairwoman of the IHPA board, didn't take him by total surprise.
"I really can't tell you the reasons I had to leave the agency," he says. "[Cellini] said I had done nothing wrong. It wasn't personal. But they wanted someone else there."
Crossland says he has always had cordial relations with Cellini. "I don't believe it was the board's idea," he says. "But when she told me it was not personal, I thought, 'Come home and tell my family it's not personal.' "
Cellini tells Illinois Times she respects Crossland "personally and professionally [but] I don't have anything to add to your story."
A successor to Crossland has not been announced. On the IHPA organizational chart, the new director and Richard Norton Smith, director of the library and museum since last December, will be peers. The only difference is that the governor appointed Smith, but the board will appoint the successor. This quirk sprouted from the same 2002 legislation that assigned IHPA responsibility for the presidential complex. It did not, however, detail how such functions as personnel, payroll, and budget management would be shared or managed.
"We talked about that when Richard came in," Crossland says. "I felt my role was to see that he had the resources to do his job. He had a huge responsibility on his shoulders."
Smith has run the Hoover, Eisenhower, Ford, and Reagan presidential libraries. A frequent guest on TV news programs (he was featured on PBS's News Hour during the Republican National Convention), Smith is the star figure that Illinois wanted for the Lincoln complex. In Crossland's mind, however, he lacks one important qualification.
"Richard is not a trained bureaucrat," he says. "He doesn't understand what it takes to get things done in state government. The bureaucracy is there. You need to work with it. That's how things get done."
Recently Smith told a reporter that the presidential library and museum "will be like nothing you've ever seen before." Were he still in a position to do so, Crossland might caution his peer against raising such expectations.
"I learned early on in tourism that you undersell and overdeliver," he says. "It can kill a destination when visitors' expectations are too high."
That said, Crossland still expects the library and museum to succeed. "Richard will make it," he says. "There's just too much momentum behind him."
Meanwhile, Crossland is keeping his suits pressed. It's early, but the 49-year-old is checking out possibilities in Illinois, as well as in other states. His government career likely isn't over yet.