IDNR joins Illinois, nation in mourning the death of Illinois State Museum Director Cinnamon Catlin-Legutko

Jayette Bolinski
IDNR joins Illinois, nation in mourning the death of Illinois State Museum Director Cinnamon Catlin-Legutko

SPRINGFIELD – The Illinois Department of Natural Resources and the Illinois State Museum are remembering Cinnamon Catlin-Legutko, who died Saturday after more than three years as director of the museum.

Catlin-Legutko, 50, was nationally regarded for her work on decolonization of museums. She was a driving force behind IDNR's efforts to prioritize diversity, equity and inclusion in all facets of the department's operations.

She died following a more than year-long battle with cancer.

"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."

Catlin-Legutko had been a museum director since 2001 and joined the Illinois State Museum in September 2019. During her tenure, she led efforts to ensure museum exhibits were more inclusive and representative of Illinois' diverse population. She hired the State of Illinois' first Tribal relations director to build relationships with Tribal Nations, ensure Illinois' compliance with federal laws and facilitate the return of ancestors' remains. And she chaired IDNR's Diversity, Equity, Accessibility and Inclusion (DEAI) Committee.

In December, President Biden announced her appointment to the Route 66 Centennial Commission established by Congress to advise on activities that would be fitting to celebrate during the 100th anniversary of the Mother Road in 2026.

Prior to joining the Illinois State Museum, Catlin-Legutko was president and CEO of the Abbe Museum in Bar Harbor, Maine, where she was one of the motivational forces behind the museum's decolonization initiative, working with the Wabanaki communities in Maine to develop policies and protocols to ensure collaboration and cooperation.

Before joining the Abbe Museum, she was director of the General Lew Wallace Study and Museum, where she led the organization to the National Medal for Museum Service in 2008.

She was a frequent presenter at national museum meetings. In 2016, she gave her first TEDx talk, "We Must Decolonize Our Museums." She was an active member of the American Association for State and Local History, the American Alliance of Museums, and numerous other organizations.

"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."

"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."

The Illinois State Museum is set to open its highly anticipated exhibition, "Growing Up X" about the childhood of Generation X, on Saturday. Catlin-Legutko, a music lover and a proud Gen Xer herself, was excited about the exhibit and had donated her own mix tapes for display.

"Cinnamon was such an incredible visionary and leader in the museum field and at the Illinois State Museum. Her work will continue to influence and inspire us at the museum," said Jenn Edginton, 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."

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


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