LEOMINSTER, MASS. - Valerie A. Wilcox, the only executive director in the history of the National Plastics Center & Museum, will retire by the end of the year.
She said she informed museum directors a few weeks ago, and a national search for her successor is starting.
``I think the museum is truly national, and I think it is on the brink of tremendous expansion,'' Wilcox, 65, said during a June 1 interview.
``I think that a change in leadership is needed after 10 years. It is time for someone else's ideas and a different vision. ... I had a wonderful time, but now is the time to pass on the leadership.''
For Wilcox, NPCM stands as a testament to hard work. She said when she was hired in 1991, the old schoolhouse building needed many repairs.
``There were bats, pigeons and an owl on the third floor. There were holes in the floors, but I took one look at the rooms and saw possibilities. ... I was impressed by the board. They had such enthusiasm for the project. I said, `This can't fail,' '' she said.
As the museum's only employee, she worked to oversee construction. On June 14, 1992, the center opened with its director, two part-timers and two volunteers.
NPCM now has a staff of five full-time employees and seven part-timers, plus special event volunteers. It entertained about 10,000 visitors last year and reached 40,000 students through its three PlastiVans, part of a national outreach program.
Wilcox calls herself a chemist by trade, noting that she found a spiritual home when she visited the Boston Museum of Science when she was 14 years old. She worked there for 34 years before taking the Leominster challenge.
``She came with an excellent museum background, and she brought all that culture to us. She's been an outstanding director for 10 years, and it will be impossible to replace her, but we will try,'' said Gordon Lankton, president of custom injection molder Nypro Inc. of Clinton, Mass.
Lankton, who has been associated with NPCM since the early days, said the outreach program has given the center a national scope. The first van started making school visits in 1995.
``I can remember the National Board of Governors actually wanted an outreach program,'' Wilcox said. ``Bob Hoffer [of Hoffer Plastics] stood up at the meeting and said, `I am giving you $40,000 for the van,' and then turned to [Lankton] saying, `and Gordon is going to give you $25,000 to put gas in.''