We had the good fortune of connecting with Michelle Kempema and we’ve shared our conversation below.

Hi Michelle, what was your thought process behind starting your own business?
I did not build the museum that I work for, the Colorado Model Railroad Museum, but I was the first employee. It was a challenge I agreed to undertake because I wanted to give back to a place that brought me joy when I really needed it. My thought process was deciding how to make a model railroad display into a self-sustaining tourist attraction in Greeley, CO. I had to look at tourism, visitor experience, volunteer management, sustainable practices, correct policy and procedures, and always doing everything with long term sustainability in mind.

Can you open up a bit about your work and career? We’re big fans and we’d love for our community to learn more about your work.
I was a single mom who went back to college. During that time I worked part time at a local homeless shelter. We were asked to go to this model railroad museum for a fundraiser and my daughter and I fell in love with the place. I started volunteering with my daughter as a place where we could find peace and joy in our hectic lives. Once I graduated, the founder asked if I would take a risk with him and see if this place could become a self-sustaining tourist attraction. I agreed to a 3 year experiment and at the end of the third year, we put money in the bank, The first step down our now 11 year journey to what we have become.

Was this easy? Not at all! It took hard work, lots of research, risk taking and trust. Everything we did we were doing for the first time. We decided our Mission is to use model railroading to provide an experience that educates, inspires, and brings joy to all ages. So many lessons learned along the way. But the most important one is to always keep Joy in your heart. We have an unwritten rule here… “If it’s not fun, change it!” and with our Mission and our emphasis on fun, the Colorado Model Railroad Museum has become an international success.

One thing we learned is that trains are special to almost everyone. At some point in most people’s lives a train has made an impact. The museum has found a way to the ultimate model railroad experience for modelers and balance that with a public visitor experience. Something for everyone.

Let’s say your best friend was visiting the area and you wanted to show them the best time ever. Where would you take them? Give us a little itinerary – say it was a week long trip, where would you eat, drink, visit, hang out, etc.
I will give them rail fan places to go. All the Colorado Railroads. I have an itinerary I like and I take group tours on. Basically we ride: The Cog Railroad
The Royal Gorge Railroad
The Cumbres& Toltec Railroad
The Durango & Silverton Railroad
The George town loop
and of course…

A visit to the Colorado Model Railroad Museum

Shoutout is all about shouting out others who you feel deserve additional recognition and exposure. Who would you like to shoutout?
I would say my success is due to many people. Mainly the founder of the CMRM, Dave Trussell, and the Board of Directors, staff and volunteers who support me everyday to make the place come alive. The many industry and tourism friends who taught me everything along the way.

Website: michelle@cmrm.org

Linkedin: michelle@cmrm.org

Twitter: michelle@cmrm.org

Facebook: Colorado Model Railroad Museum

Youtube: Colorado Model Railroad Museum

Image Credits
All photos are owned by the musuem and are free to use without credit.

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