Shelley McKamey, the Executive Director of the Museum of the Rockies (MOR), announced on Jan. 25 that she will retire at the end of this year. McKamey’s 15 years as head of the museum are the longest in its history. Although she became director in 2003, McKamey has worked for the museum since 1987, first working as marketing director.
“It’s been a huge part of my life,” McKamey said of her time with MOR. “It has made a pretty profound impact on the experiences and the opportunities I’ve had.”
The museum has seen major changes since McKamey started working there. Initially, the museum focused only on Montana history and artifacts and had an attendance made up primarily of locals. However, last year the museum set a record attendance number with 196,201 visitors. The paleontology program is internationally recognized and is one of Montana’s top 10 tourist destinations. McKamey and the museum’s board have worked together to bring the world to Montana with exhibits like King Tut, Leonardo Da Vinci’s inventions, Picasso’s ceramics and, in two weeks, a new Julius Caesar display.
The MOR also shares Montana with the world by traveling its paleontology exhibit, “Dinosaur Dynasties: The Evolution of Montana Dinosaurs in Asia.” Last summer the exhibit was in Japan, where MOR has two sister museums. This global exchange “has been a hugely positive thing with the museum,” McKamey said.
Once McKamey took over as director, she helped change the face of the museum by updating all the dinosaur halls to accommodate new research, updating the planetarium, expanding the farm and adding storage space. In 2013, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers requested the MOR’s impressive T-rex for display at the Smithsonian to become the “Nation’s Tyrannosaurus rex.” The MOR then replaced the exhibit with their second T-rex on display within the year, calling it “Montana’s T-rex.”
The museum has been a division of MSU since 1957. It offers MSU students applied experience in a variety of fields such as paleontology, aspiring agriculture and art teachers, astronomy, museum studies, marketing, civil engineering and architecture, tourism and hospitality majors.
McKamey said the museum is an extension of MSU’s land grant principles of research, education and outreach, offering non-traditional educational experiences for four-year-olds with Tours for Tots, up to adults with the Wonderlust program. McKamey graduated from MSU and grew up in Montana’s schools, “so to be at something that can contribute to Montana education is really important to me,” she said.
As for as the future of the MOR, “I think we are doing a really good job right now, I hope we continue to do that, but better,” McKamey said, “[we want to] reach more kids, be at more service to the university and continue to be an economic factor [in the Bozeman community].” MSU will direct a national search for a new director to take over next year.