Changes are ahead for one of the country's largest museums dedicated to showcasing and preserving Japanese culture and history. Tom Gregersen, senior curator of the Morikami Museum in Delray Beach, is leaving his post after 35 years with the institution. Gregersen came to the museum about six months after its initial launch in 1977, meaning he's been there "pretty much from the beginning."
Such a loss is bound to be evident to the public, right? Not to worry, said museum administrator Bonnie LeMay: "There will be no impact felt by visitors."
Though he's shaped the museum into the popular tourist destination and local attraction it is today, LeMay said Gregersen has been working hand-in-hand with the museum's curator of Japanese art to ease the transition. He's also planning to stay active with the museum after his retirement.
The museum and outdoor Japanese gardens are what LeMay called a "blended institution." The museum and garden have a partnership with Palm Beach County which "makes (them) raise the bar on everything (they) do," including the change in leadership, LeMay said.
Morikami Museum and Japanese Gardens provide a glimpse at South Florida's little-known Japan-Florida connection. In the early 1900s, a small group of Japanese farmers settled in the northern area of what is now Boca Raton. Their farming colony, named Yamato (which means "Japan"), lasted only a few years and by the 1920s, most of the families had returned to their home country or settled elsewhere in the United States. The only remaining settler was George Sukeji Morikami, who in the mid-'70s donated his land to Palm Beach County. That land eventually came to house the museum.
LeMay said the museum is one of the few in the country dedicated to the "culture, history, and education" of Japan and Japanese-American culture. At 200 acres of property, including 17 acres of "highly-manicured" gardens that are accessible year-round, LeMay said "you won't find another (like it) in the nation."
Read more about Gregersen's legacy in this Palm Beach Illustrated story. The museum is showcasing his departing show, "The Curator's Farewell Exhibition: Cool Stuff from the Morikami Museum's Collection," through May 19.