John Jumper, who retired from the Air Force as a four-star general and chief of staff in 2005, has been named board chairman of the Museum of the American Revolution, succeeding founding chairman H.F. “Gerry” Lenfest, who has worked to transform the museum from a nettlesome problem for Montgomery County to a near-reality at Third and Chestnut Streets.
The new redbrick institution is scheduled to open its doors to the public April 19.
Lenfest said he was more than happy with the progress the museum has made since he became chairman in 2005.
“I am also honored that an individual of John Jumper’s talents and achievements will be our next chairman,” Lenfest said. He added that he had “great confidence” that Jumper would succeed in focusing the museum through its opening and the future.
Lenfest, who is a director of the company that publishes the Inquirer, the Daily News, and Philly.com, will remain associated as chairman emeritus; the board will vote on the changes Wednesday.
Jumper, who joined the museum board in 2014 and became vice chair last year, said he wanted to broadcast the meaning of the museum, which he characterized as a treasure, beyond Philadelphia and “out to the rest of the nation.”
That meaning can be found, he said, in “just appreciating the agony people went through to birth this nation.”
“What I hope is to transition this organization from essentially a fund-raising entity to an operational entity,” Jumper said. “My forte is in organizing human endeavor. Now, we’ve got to drive this thing to success. That means bringing in exhibitions, creating a narrative, creating the whole environment. Where else could you be that would be more exciting than this? There’s nowhere.”
After retiring from the Air Force, Jumper became chairman and chief executive of SAIC, a global technology firm. He now serves as chair of SAIC and Leidos, which split off from SAIC.
The core of the museum’s collection comes from the old Valley Forge Historical Society, about 3,000 artifacts, including the museum’s marquee star, George Washington’s field tent, a worn but resolute linen shack that served as his home for much of the war.
It will be displayed in its own theatrical gallery.
Michael C. Quinn, museum president and chief executive, characterized the changing of the guard as “a big deal.”
“Let’s face it, this museum wouldn’t exist without Gerry,” Quinn said. “This is a transition point.”
The museum initially envisioned itself at Valley Forge, a product of congressional legislation that authorized the National Park Service to enter into a public-private association with the Valley Forge Historical Society. A museum could be built at Valley Forge National Historical Park.
But that never happened. There were problems with the federal bureaucracy, uneasy with the size of the proposed institution. Environmental groups added their opposition. Many local residents also became disgruntled as the vision for the museum and its amenities morphed ever larger. A conference center was envisioned. A hotel.
Finally, in 2010, Lenfest and then-Gov. Ed Rendell persuaded federal officials to go along with a land swap -- the museum’s 70-plus acres in Valley Forge for an acre of park service land at Third and Chestnut Streets.
Lenfest was in the thick of all this. He acquired the property in Valley Forge for the museum, he worked on the land swap, and he led the $150 million fund-raising drive to make the museum a reality. In all, he has donated nearly $60 million to build the museum.
Quinn said the museum has raised about $143.5 million, still $6.5 million shy of its inaugural fund-raising goal. The $120 million building, designed by Robert A.M. Stern, will open debt-free, however, Quinn said. The funds beyond $120 million will seed an endowment.
"I feel it’s all come to a very successful conclusion,” said Lenfest. “We went through all sorts of problems at Valley Forge … and we are so fortunate in having a place in the historic district of Philadelphia, a far better place.”
Lenfest called Jumper “a major doer.”
“John Jumper,” said Lenfest, "is a true believer in the American Revolution and its impact on the world."