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Encyclopedia Dubuque


"Encyclopedia Dubuque is the online authority for all things Dubuque, written by the people who know the city best.”
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Affiliated with the Local History Network of the State Historical Society of Iowa, and the Iowa Museum Association.


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Photo courtesy: Telegraph Herald
ENZLER, Jerry. (Washington, D.C., Aug. 12, 1951- ). Raised in Bethesda, Maryland, Enzler's family could trace its roots to Dubuque in the 1850s. His father, Clarence J. ENZLER, left the city during the GREAT DEPRESSION and worked in the District of Columbia area as an author and speech writer for the Department of Agriculture. (1)

Enzler graduated from LORAS COLLEGE in 1973 with a degree in accounting. He married Katherine FISCHER and worked for two for Arthur Andersen, an accounting firm. In 1975 the two spent a year as volunteer teachers at the Sisters of Charity of the Blessed Virgin Mary-affiliated Immaculate Conception School in Clarksdale, Mississippi. The experience led to the couple returning to Dubuque. Fischer taught at HEMPSTEAD HIGH SCHOOL and then WAHLERT CATHOLIC HIGH SCHOOL beginning in 1989. Enzler applied for a position at the HAM HOUSE and was interviewed by Helen MERCER. Through a federal program, the Comprehensive Employment and Training Act, he became in 1977 the first full-time employee of the DUBUQUE COUNTY HISTORICAL SOCIETY, as the museum's curator. (2)

His first project increased revenue at the Ham House by quadrupling the hours of operation which increased admission revenue and sales at the gift shop. He reduced expenses by increasing the use of work-study students rather than part-time seasonal workers. Enzler then took a left-of-absence for a year and was accepted into a one-year graduate program in museum studies at the Cooperstown Graduate Program, State University of New York and received a Master's degree in Museum Studies. (3)

With his guidance, the Historical Society saw its budget grow from $13,000 in 1979 to $730,000 in 1989 with a staff of twelve full-time and thirty part-time employees. Museum attendance increased from three thousand visitors annually to 73,000. Dubuque museums annually accounted for an estimated $6,000,000 in revenue to the city.

In 1979 Enzler initiated the opening of the FRED W. WOODWARD RIVERBOAT MUSEUM with a $200,000 grant from the Woodward Foundation and over one million dollars raised locally. Enzler directed the successful grant application in 1979 to the National Trust for Historic Preservation that resulted in $135,000 being awarded to Dubuque. This was the seventh largest grant issued in the United States and the largest for any project on inland waters.

In 1983 $200,000 was granted by the National Endowment for the Humanities with an additional $900,000 being donated locally. Under Enzler's direction, this money was placed in an endowment for the complete restoration of Ham House, the start of the NATIONAL RIVERS HALL OF FAME, and completion of the Riverboat Museum. With his colleagues, he worked with leaders from the Dubuque Area Chamber of Commerce, Dubuque Convention and Visitors Bureau, the City of Dubuque, and several other partners to implement the $188 million riverfront development project. (4)

He led five major building, program, and fund raising efforts for the Historical Society including being the author of over six hundred successful grants including the $40 million Vision Iowa grant which began the transformation of the ICE HARBOR: establishment of the Fred W. Woodward Riverboat Museum; acquisition and restoration of the steamboat William M Black from 1979 to 1982; completion of the Woodward Riverboat Museum; establishment of the National Rivers Hall of Fame; restoration of the Mathias Ham House from 1984 to 1987; development of the Iowa Welcome Center building and continued growth of programs and endowment from 1988 to 1992; the America's River project which established the William Woodward Mississippi River Discovery Center; Wetland; Boatyard; and restoration of the Depot from 1997 to 2003; the America's River II project which doubled the Woodward Campus of the Museum & Aquarium with the Diamond Jo National River Center; Rivers to the Sea; RiverWorks Splash Zone; 3D/4D theater; and Mississippi Plaza; and increased endowment from 2006 to 2012. The National Mississippi River Museum and Aquarium, a Smithsonian-affiliated organization, has been the catalyst for hundreds of millions of dollars in riverfront development for Dubuque and served 2.3 million visitors in its first 12 years. (5)

Enzler received the FIRST CITIZEN AWARD in 1991, an Honorary Doctor of Humanities from CLARKE COLLEGE, Honorary Doctor of Law from Loras College, Coastal American Leadership Award from the Office of the White House, and the Humanities Iowa Lifetime Service Award. He was the first president of the America's River Corporation. In 2006 was a member of the Iowa Mississippi River Parkway Commission which authored the Iowa Great River Road Corridor Management Plan. (6) In addition to grant applications, his writing included creating and scripting more than fifty museum exhibits including “Lewis and Clark’s Excellent Adventure” and “The Rivers of America.” He focused particular research on famed mountain man James Felix "Jim Bridger" and in 2011 wrote an article entitled Tracking Jim Bridger: Finding the Trail of Old Gabe for the fifth issue of The Rocky Mountain Fur Trade Journal. (7)

On April 17, 2017 Governor Terry Branstad presented Enzler with the William J. Petersen/Edgar R. Harlan Lifetime Achievement Award for significant contributions to Iowa history. The award recognizes an individual, group or organization that has made significant long-term or continuing contributions to Iowa history. Enzler was the second Dubuque resident to receive the award with the first being William J. PETERSEN. (8)

Enzler retired in 2016 and was succeeded by Dr. Robert DAVIS.



1. Hogstrom, Erik. "Enthusiasm, Vision," River of Dreams, November, 2016, p. 12

2. Ibid., p. 13

3. Ibid., p. 14

4. "President & CEO Jerry Enzler to Retire at the end of 2016," National Mississippi River Museum & Aquarium news release, October 15, 2015

5. Ibid.

6. Iowa Great River Road Corridor Management Plan. Iowa Mississippi River Parkway Commission, 2006. Online: http://www.iowadot.gov/iowasbyways/Final_GRR_CMP_Update_June_2006.pdf

7. The Rocky Mountain Fur Trade Journal Online: http://museumofthemountainman.com/museum-publications/the-rocky-mountain-fur-trade-journal/volume-5-2011/

8. "Dubuquer Earns Recognition from Governor for Historical Contributions," Telegraph Herald, April 18, 2017, p. 7B