Dianna Colman

Dianna Colman, standing, chairwoman of the Yerkes Future Foundation, addresses a gathering at George Williams College last year to discuss the future of the now-shuttered Yerkes Observatory, below. (File photos/Regional News)

WILLIAMS BAY — Yerkes Future Foundation wants to grow its membership.

The new organization needs volunteers with time and expertise to move forward the group’s goal of sustaining Yerkes Observatory and turning it into a public museum and education center, said Dianna Colman, chairwoman of the foundation’s seven member core committee.

On May 14, Colman took the microphone and made that pitch to about 120 receptive Williams Bay residents and Yerkes supporters at the Beasley Campus Center on the George Williams College campus.

“We’re such a small group and we’re trying to make it bigger,” Colman said. “We need more people.”

The organization isn’t looking for money just yet. But Colman estimated that the foundation will eventually need between $15 million and $20 million to reach its goal.

The foundation coalesced after a meeting at the Geneva Lake Museum in Lake Geneva in late March, Colman said.

Colman said the group needs people who are knowledgeable in finances and adept with social media and just people who spread the word about Yerkes.

“We need volunteers to do nothing more than to encourage people to come out on Friday,” Colman said, referring to the May 18 meeting called by the University of Chicago. The meeting will begin at 5:30 p.m. at Williams Bay High School, 500 W. Geneva St.

She said she expects that five University of Chicago staff members will be there, primarily to listen to residents’ concerns and answer questions.

Colman said those who turn out at the Friday meeting should be prepared to ask questions, such as: What does the university want out of this?

Colman said the foundation is also open to cooperation or partnership with other organizations.

Although the meeting was on the George Williams campus, there is no formal connection at this time between the foundation and Aurora University, which owns George Williams College.

“We’re trying to stay as open as possible to other organizations,” said Colman. And that includes George Williams College, but also the University of Wisconsin and a nonprofit organization that operates observatories around the country.

On March 7, the University of Chicago announced that it was “ceasing operations” at Yerkes, the 120-year-old observatory in Williams Bay, as of Oct. 1.

On March 19, university representatives went before the Williams Bay Village Board and said that Yerkes will not be razed, but the university is looking for a way to transition ownership to someone else.

During the March 29 meeting at the museum, Chuck Ebeling, a retired McDonald’s Corp. vice president who has been active in land conservation and environmental issues locally, proposed creation of the foundation, Colman said.

Chris Schultz has been a reporter for more than 40 years. He has been with the Lake Geneva Regional since 2010. He covers the Lake Geneva City Council and the Lake Geneva area schools.