Peterson promoted to director at Allerton

Allerton Park and Retreat Center has announced that its Director, Dr. Bruce Branham, is returning to full-time teaching and research at the University of Illinois. Associate Director Derek Peterson will become the Director of Allerton, effective Aug. 16.

In the Fall of 2010, as Allerton was experiencing some difficult budget and personnel issues, leadership on the U of I campus discussed a new approach to managing the unique facility, which consists of conference and event space, 1,500 acres of natural areas, and formal gardens.

Robert Easter, who was serving as the University’s Interim Chancellor at the time, suggested Branham as a candidate for Allerton’s Director. The two had worked together while Easter was Dean of the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences (ACES) and Branham was the interim Department Head for the Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Sciences (NRES). Branham is currently a professor of Crop Sciences.

“I don’t think campus leadership felt that this was the best way to manage the Park,” Branham explained. “Rather, this approach was viewed as a way to get Allerton back on a more sustainable path.”

With a 20 percent appointment at Allerton, Branham has focused on that goal for the past seven years, while also continuing his teaching and research.

“Almost from the get-go, I was asked ‘what’s the best way to manage this in the future?’” Branham explained. “We’re not there yet, but we’re pretty close. We need continued engagement with campus and the community.”

Allerton’s accessibility and engagement has increased under Branham, with the return of programs like the concert series, the Holiday Showcase, and youth day camps, plus the addition of new activities like Mansion dinners, the Family Campout, a lighted winter wellness walk, and overnight lodging.

“The more we become a unique destination, the better it will be for Allerton, the University, and the whole region,” Branham continued. “Allerton must to be run like a business from this point forward. (Asking) not only ‘is this good for the community?’, but ‘is it good for Allerton?’”

Branham notes that one of the most significant accomplishments achieved during his tenure was the completion of the Master Plan, which was approved by the University’s Board of Trustees in January 2015.

“The Master Plan is a blueprint for the responsible growth and development of this unique resource, and has sparked a significant increase in giving,” Branham said, noting that private giving has increased exponentially in recent years, and that the Park is on a path to be completely self-supporting. “I think that’s an important piece, particularly now with the way the state economy has gone.”

Even with the state budget in flux, Branham feels the timing is right to make a change, noting that the Park would benefit with a full-time Director and that, while there is still more to be accomplished, Allerton is in a “good spot.”

“I’m extremely proud of the staff that has been assembled and the leadership that Derek (Peterson) has provided. There are a lot of dedicated people, and very good momentum there now,” Branham said. “Derek is deserving of being the Director. He’s ready for this.”

Peterson, a U of I horticulture grad, began working at Allerton as a Park Attendant in 2007. After serving as Associate Director of Park Operations, he was promoted to Associate Director in 2014, overseeing both the Park and Retreat Center. Now, he will take on the role of Director, continuing Bruce’s vision of engagement and accessibility.

“It’s going to be hard to fill Bruce’s shoes,” Peterson said. “Fortunately for me, and for the people of central Illinois, Bruce has built up an amazing staff around me to keep things moving in the right direction.”

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