A goal of any children’s museum is to inspire. So, it’s no surprise that phrases like “No one is you, and that’s your power” and “Focus on the good” are written on a wall behind the desk of the executive director of Omaha Children’s Museum.
What is surprising is that Lindy Hoyer’s office also has a framed front-page Omaha World-Herald story about the Titanic sinking—hardly the stuff of inspiration. But for those familiar with the museum’s history, it makes perfect sense.
The Titanic exhibit was one of the first that ran when Hoyer assumed her role as executive director. The exhibit opened in 2004 (Hoyer became executive director in 2002), and it signaled Hoyer’s plans for the museum. The exhibits would be ambitious, and sometimes not the stuff of standard children’s museum fare. For the Titanic exhibit, Hoyer knew Mark Lach, the designer of the Titanic exhibit. Lach asked Hoyer if she knew a place in Omaha that would be interested in hosting it.
“Before you look at any place, come look at what I got here,” Hoyer says she told him.
Since Hoyer took over in 2002, yearly attendance has steadily increased. Their recent exhibit, Dinosaur Safari, freely encouraged kids to climb up a dehorned Triceratops, mine for fossils in a free-flowing water channel, and climb in a jeep that looks uncannily like the brightly colored one in Jurassic Park. Families who missed the prehistoric fun can expect the giant models to return in the form of a new (different) exhibit in the coming years.
Animatronic dinosaurs span both phases of Hoyer’s time at the museum. An earlier version came to Omaha during her first stint with the museum. A few decades later, under her leadership, the museum owns the extinct beasts—which are available for museums around the country to rent.
Hoyer (originally from Eagle, Nebraska) graduated from Doane University in 1986 with degrees in English and theater. She was offered a job as an administrative assistant at the museum shortly after she graduated. She still has her badge with that title.
Between 1986 and 1994, Hoyer saw the museum move to its current location at 20th Street and St. Mary’s Avenue, and her title went from assistant to manager of exhibits. In 1994, Hoyer was approached by Marilyn Gorham, then executive director of Lincoln Children’s Museum.
At the time, Hoyer felt her career with Omaha Children’s Museum had reached its growth potential. Gorham offered Hoyer the position of director of operations at Lincoln Children’s Museum. From 1994 to 2002, Hoyer worked on exhibit development and also began doing marketing, grant writing, and project management under Gorham’s watch.
“All along, [Gorham] was grooming me to take over. There was just a monkey wrench that was thrown into it,” Hoyer says.
That wrench was Hoyer getting married. A year before the wedding, she moved back to Omaha, which required a daily commute to Lincoln. Then in 2002, an irresistible opportunity opened up—a vacancy for the executive director of Omaha Children’s Museum.
“I always loved living in Omaha. I always felt that Omaha Children’s Museum, at that time [in 2002] had not reached its full potential,” Hoyer says. She knew because of the many Omaha visitors who came to Lincoln specifically to go to the children’s museum.
She was determined to make Omaha Children’s Museum a go-to place for locals and out-of-town visitors. Her work seems to have paid off. Last year, the museum reached a record of almost 317,000 visitors.
“Omaha’s community wanted and had a desire to have a good children’s museum, Hoyer says. “And I’m always one who’s up for a challenge. Give me a puzzle to put together, and I’ll work on it until I solve it.”
Visit ocm.org for more information about Omaha Children’s Museum.
This story was printed in the November/December 2017 edition of Omaha Magazine.