Community Spotlight: Children's Discovery Museum

Posted by Megan Toeniskoetter
September 17, 2020


This year marks the 30th anniversary of the Children’s Discovery Museum, a San Jose institution whose whimsical purple building has become a familiar sight to thousands of children and their parents seeking playtime fun and exploration. What many people don’t know is how closely its history is intertwined with Toeniskoetter’s. In fact, Toeniskoetter has been on board for the entire ride, from helping to raise the initial funding that made this iconic landmark possible to navigating the uncharted waters of a worldwide pandemic -- all the while helping the Museum continually redefine playtime for a new generation of kids.

“As long as the Children’s Discovery Museum has been around, Toeniskoetter has been a part of it,” says Marilee Jennings, the museum’s Executive Director.  Company founder Chuck Toeniskoetter was one of the original team who helped raise the first $10 million to get the Museum off the ground and worked with the City of San Jose to establish the public-private partnership that would define the enterprise. He also provided necessary expertise. “With his background in real estate and development, Chuck was a tremendous advisor in our early years,” Jennings asserts. Chuck went on to serve on the Board of Directors, as did Brad Krouskup, President and CEO of Toeniskoetter Development, launching what would become three decades of an ongoing partnership between the Museum and the Toeniskoetter Companies.

Today, the torch has been passed to Dan Amend, President and CEO of Toeniskoetter Construction, whose 15 years on the Board have now surpassed either of his predecessors. “My interest in serving was twofold,” he explains. “First is the company’s long association with the Museum. Second was my own desire to be part of an important community organization, which I couldn’t have done without the company’s strong support.” With three kids of his own, the oldest of whom spent a summer working for the Museum when he turned 16, Dan also felt a personal connection to the Museum’s mission to encourage creativity and lifelong learning.

Dan’s years on the Board, the last three as Board Chair, have coincided with some of the Museum’s most ambitious projects, including Bill’s Backyard, which turned underutilized outdoor space into a hybrid park and playground area that brings the joys of nature and outside play to kids whose access to safe outdoor play areas might be limited.  It was the Museum’s largest capital improvement project to date, and making it a reality required exactly the kind of expertise Dan and Toeniskoetter brought to the table. “Our facilities and exhibit staff are experts in their fields, but we don’t have the experience needed to manage multi-million dollar capital projects,” recalls Jennings. “This was an incredibly complicated job, and Toeniskoetter’s knowledge proved invaluable -- they were a huge resource to us.”

If Dan and his fellow board members thought managing complex projects was challenging, nothing had prepared them for the fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic. The Museum was one of the first places to feel the impact early in March when an employee was exposed to the disease, and the decision was made to close its doors out of an abundance of caution. Worse still, the Museum’s biggest fundraising event, Legacy of Children, which had grown from raising $380,000 in Dan’s first year as a Board member to bringing in over $1.5 million in a single night, had to be canceled.

But the Board persevered. “Our executive team is well connected to other museums, and we took the lead to gather best-practices and push for museums to be included in any re-opening plans,” Dan explains. And even though the Museum’s signature event was cancelled this year, Dan notes that the fundraising team kept working, raising almost a full year’s worth of funding despite the setback.

Through it all, Dan says, “It’s been satisfying to apply my professional skills to enhancing this important cultural asset. Creativity, working together, figuring things out -- we’re fostering skills that are essential to learn and to thrive.”

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