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Illinois State Museum Director Cinnamon Catlin-Legutko has died

Cinnamon Catlin-Legutko
Cinnamon Catlin-Legutko

The director of the Illinois State Museum in Springfield, Cinnamon Catlin-Legutko, has died.

She died over the weekend following a lengthy battle with cancer, according to her husband Larry Legutko's social media post. It was a battle "she valiantly fought with good humor, a dogged determination and an optimism that was felt by me, my son, friends and colleagues and her care team. She touched oh so many lives," he wrote.

Catlin-Legutko, 50, first came to the museum in 2019. Previous jobs included president and chief executive officer of the Abbe Museum in Maine and the General Lew Wallace Study and Museum in Crawfordsville, Indiana.

Last year, she was selected to serve on the Route 66 Centennial Commission ahead of the road's anniversary in 2026. She was a native of Clinton, Missouri.

The Illinois State Museum is part of the Department of Natural Resources. Monday, the agency issued a statement. It said Catlin-Legutko was nationally regarded for her work on decolonization of museums. It added she was a driving force behind IDNR’s efforts to prioritize diversity, equity and inclusion in all facets of the department’s operations.

“Cinnamon’s moral compass was unwavering and pointed due north. She was driven by a deeply held desire to make the world a more inclusive place and ensure the past is portrayed accurately,” said IDNR Director Natalie Phelps Finnie. “I’ve known few leaders like her. She was tough but kind, funny as could be, and she challenged us in ways that opened our eyes and made those around her want to do better for the people of this state. This is a heartbreaking loss, and her family will remain in our thoughts and prayers.”

“Cinnamon was not only a brilliant mind but also a beautiful soul, and we are heartbroken by the loss of this bright light. She was an inspiration to so many,” said Kristin DiCenso, chief of staff for IDNR who worked closely with Catlin-Legutko on DEAI initiatives at the agency. “We are keeping her husband, Larry; her son, Jacob; and all those who loved her in our thoughts.”

“We lost an amazing woman who lived her life with the conviction that museums can do better, that equity is the only way forward, and life is a joyful journey,” Donna K. Sack, chairwoman of the Illinois State Museum System Board of Directors, said. “Cinnamon brought all of this to her tenure at the Illinois State Museum, and she will be sorely missed. Her legacy will help us define our forward path.”

The museum is set to open the exhibition, “Growing Up X” about the childhood of Generation X, on Saturday. Catlin-Legutko, a music lover and a proud Gen Xer herself, had donated her own mix tapes for display, according to the museum.

Jenn Edginton is director of interpretation for the museum.

“Our next exhibit, ‘Growing Up X,’ was one that she was excited for and ready to show the state. From brainstorming ideas to the objects visitors will see, Cinnamon’s presence is there. Our favorite GenXer, Cinnamon, will be on our mind when we open the exhibit.”

Tributes for Catlin-Legutko also poured in from colleagues across the country. The Society of American Archivists: Native American Archives Section called her "a strong advocate for the decolonization in museums whose work crossed between both museums and archives - she will be greatly missed."

An acting director for the Illinois State Museum is expected to be named in coming weeks.

"I ask that in lieu of flowers or food that you await the creation of a memorial fund that I and her friends are in the process of creating," Larry Legutko announced. "If you feel the need to give immediately in her name I ask that you give to the Cholangiocarcinoma Foundation, The Lincoln Foundation or the Illinois State Museum Foundation."