BACKGROUND & BIO
Abilene is so much a part of Trish Dressen that it seems strange, even to her, that Abilene isn’t part of her address. She, her husband, Jeff, and their three children live in Buffalo Gap. Trish makes the short commute every morning to Abilene where she is the executive director of the National Center for Children’s Illustrated Literature, a position she has held since March 1, 2018.
Trish’s family moved to Abilene in 1985 when Trish was 4. She graduated from Abilene High School in 2000 and from Texas Tech University in 2004. She dreamed of opening an advertising firm in another city but chose her hometown instead.
“I realized in those formative years how much Abilene had given me,” she said.
Before joining the NCCIL, Trish worked for Tige Boats, Lauren Engineers, and the Abilene Convention and Visitors Bureau.
You could argue that the entirety of Trish’s job is a “community contribution.” Directing an organization dedicated to enriching the lives of children through art and books is a contribution beyond measure.
A demanding job, plus a husband and three children, doesn’t leave a lot of time for Trish to be involved in other community activities. Still, she finds time because it is important. In March, her husband, Jeff, a mortgage banker, ran for county commissioner, and Trish helped him as she could. While working as marketing director of the Abilene Convention and Visitors Bureau, Trish started two campaigns that contributed greatly to the city’s image and visibility, “I Am Abilene” and “Live Like a Local.”
Trish’s community involvement also extends to her current hometown, Buffalo Gap, where she serves on the Chamber of Commerce board.
“I have a warm and fuzzy job,” Trish likes to say.
And no one could argue. Stepping foot into the National Center for Children’s Illustrated Literature is like entering a magical new realm. Still, at the end of the day, Trish’s job as executive director is a real-world job with real-world pressures, demands and expectations.
When Trish was hired in 2018 to become the center’s executive director, she brought a new set of skills to that position, coming from a marketing and public relations background. She grew up with an appreciation of art through her mother but had no direct experience with art. She felt she had to prove herself to people who had invested so much time and money into developing the NCCIL. She wanted to be grace-filled and empathetic with the center’s longtime supporters while keeping an eye on the NCCIL’s health and vitality.
“I was built by fire the first six months of this job,” she said.
Trish has had her share of personal struggles, too. She was a single mom before marrying Jeff. Her mother, Pam Christoferson, died five years ago, leaving a huge hole in the hearts of the family. Trish still sheds tears when talking about her.
“None of us really knew what to do,” when she died, Trish said.
FOCUS ON THE FUTURE
In a message from the director on the NCCIL’s web- site, Trish describes the center’s mission: “To exhibit, tour, collect, preserve and promote original art from the finest children’s literature.”
That is both the NCCIL’s past and its future. The NCCIL began as the vision of former Mayor Gary Mc- Caleb when he was reading the children’s Christmas book “Santa Calls” to an elementary school class in December 1993. Thanks to McCaleb’s dream and “can do” spirit, the NCCIL came to life in 2000. Twenty years later, the NCCIL has opened new worlds to thousands of children through art classes and exposure to the world’s finest illustrators of children’s picture books.
Going forward, more space will be needed, which will require a capital campaign. Trish also wants to beef up programming to touch the lives of more children and build on the already wildly successful Children’s Art & Literacy Festival, sponsored each June by the Abilene Cultural Affairs Council, in cooperation with the NCCIL.
Trish also will be aggressive in pursuing more artists of color and their works to bring to the NCCIL. In March, she brought Mexican artist YuYi Morales to Abilene as the first female Latino artist featured in a solo exhibit at the NCCIL
“It was an incredibly monumental event for the whole community,” Trish said.
Trish, 38, loves her job but knows that someday it will come to an end. She wants to ensure that the National Center for Children’s Illustrated Literature she passes on will forever be the showcase of the Storybook Capital of America.
“This place doesn’t belong to me,” she said. “It belongs to anyone and everyone.”
Editor’s note: As of press time, the NCCIL is closed to visitors during coronavirus restrictions but providing book readings and art activities online. Visit the NCCIL’s Facebook page for details.