Kansas historical museum gets second chance at life
By KIMBERLY BARKER
Nov. 17, 2017
PITTSBURG, Kan. (AP) — A group of volunteers was able to restore the heartbeat of a once-forgotten museum on the verge of flatlining by breathing new life into it.
The Joplin Globe reports that through the help of restoration and community service efforts, the Crawford County Historical Museum, which first opened in 1978, now has a new shot at life. Over the years, the historic building faced financial hardships, lack of visitors and was manned by only one unpaid staff member, and it closed its doors in May 2015.
After its contents and keys were turned over to the Crawford County Commission, it struck the interest of Amanda Minton, an adjunct history teacher at Pittsburg State University.
"I teach history at Pittsburg State University, and I did my internship out here when the county called for help to reopen the doors of the museum," Minton said. "I knew it was important that we restored the museum. When people go and visit a town and want to learn about the local culture, what do you do? You go visit a museum."
Minton soon began motivating others to help revitalize the structure that told the story of their region. Serving as the adviser of PSU's Circle K, the college version of Kiwanis, it wasn't difficult for her to find those willing to help with the cause.
"With volunteers, the museum came alive again," she said. "And thanks to the community, we had tremendous help."
Among many of her volunteers is Circle K President Phillip Gomez, a PSU student who saw the significance of preserving local history.
"I actually really like this museum," said Gomez, a computer information systems major. "I've been to a lot, but this one is so different from the big museums that have global history because it's just the county's history. ... It's really more personal."
The volunteers help direct visitors around the museum, answer questions and tidy up exhibits. Many current exhibits feature what life was like during the 1940s and have mannequins outfitted in clothing authentic to the era.
At one exhibit, students water real vegetables growing from a garden box. Throughout World War II, the U.S. Department of Agriculture motivated people to grow their produce in community gardens, also known as victory gardens.
Student volunteer Emily Vue, a double major in international business and international studies, said she enjoys the opportunity to interact with her community.
"Getting to know the community members is also cool because sometimes you see your professors here, and you don't ever really see them outside of the classrooms," she said. "We try to help motivate other people to come and help out. It's really an interesting place to see at least once, especially if you're going to be here in Pittsburg."
The university's ROTC also is involved; students help unpack boxes and even perform in live re-enactments for the museum. Bradsson Miller, an ROTC member majoring in justice studies, served as a soldier in the museum's WWII re-enactment event in October. Actors dressed in period authentic clothing, carried weapons and engaged in battles.
Miller said he enjoyed the experience of what it was like to walk in the shoes of a WWII soldier. He said volunteering at the museum has helped spark new interests for him, and he has learned about the role of early African-American soldiers.
"You can read the books and watch the movies, but when you actually get hands-on experience, to actually learn about a specific character and then come out and play it, it's a really good experience," Miller said.
Two years after it initially closed, the museum has experienced a complete transformation. The entryway greets visitors with a U.S. flag draped along the wall and decorated Christmas trees with lights. The back of the museum houses antique vehicles, including a 1929 Ford Model A mail truck made out of wood and the oldest ladder firetruck on this side of the Mississippi River.
One of the first priorities on Minton's list was replacing the leaky roof. After applying for a grant through the Pritchett Trust, the museum was awarded more than $40,000 for a new roof.
A second grant has funded an educational pavilion located behind the museum, to be completed in spring 2018. Funding for that project was provided by the Pritchett Trust and the Sunflower Kiwanis Club. The pavilion is being completed with the help of four seniors in PSU's School of Construction and will be used as an outdoor classroom. In the spring, four more seniors will aid in the project.
"They plan on using it for local schools who will come out here to have educational sessions," said Grant Kobza, a field engineer and PSU construction student. "Our scope of work, our four guys, what we're doing this semester is placing the concrete. We just poured our columns today, and then we'll pour our diamonds. Next semester, the next group will come and place the roof."
Information from: The Joplin (Mo.) Globe, http://www.joplinglobe.com