At the O’Fallon City Council meeting on Feb. 28, organizer Jim Higgins confirmed that the grand opening of the St. Charles County Veterans Museum, 410 East Elm Street in O’Fallon, will be at 10 a.m. on Friday, April 12.
After a full day of operation, there will be a special ceremony at 6 p.m. The public is invited to both, and admission is free.
Higgins is operations chairman on the museum’s executive board.
The original idea for the Veterans Museum came six years ago from Ralph Barralle, a World War II U.S. Army veteran. “Ralph’s Dream” as it is now called, was to have a place where stories could be told of veterans’ service and the sacrifices they made. Higgins explained that Barralle had said for years “No one is ever gone, as long as someone still has memories of them.” That sentiment became a core value of the museum and the volunteers creating it.
Ralph was deeply involved in the first five years of getting the museum started, but passed away on Oct. 17, 2018, at age 94. Now, Jim and the museum volunteer team are following through to ensure that Ralph’s dream becomes reality.
During the next few weeks, the museum’s exterior and interior special features will be completed. Exterior features include The Grove with picnic tables, a Veterans Healing Garden with eight plots for veterans’ families to tend, the Veterans Memorial, the Heroes Walk, the Seabee Tribute Bridge, a greenhouse and a rain garden. Interior features include a Veterans Theatre for showing videos about veterans, veterans’ artifacts, and activities for children.
“The parents will bring the children to the museum, but the children will bring the parents back,” Higgins predicted.
An interior exhibit will explore “A Lifetime of Service” and highlight people who served in the military, then became police officers, firefighters and other first responders, thus continuing their service to others. Exhibits also are planned to tell the stories of Purple Heart recipients, share Letters to Home, and salute Women in the Military.
Higgins said he had been surprised to learn about Elaine, a 104-year-old Weldon Spring resident who is a World War II veteran and the “world’s oldest WAC.” He believes she will have an interesting story to tell. [Read more about Elaine here.]The museum is actively seeking donations of veteran’s artifacts to expand its exhibits.
Higgins said he “learned very quickly not to judge an artifact until he learned the full story.” He gave an example about an American Eagle jigsaw puzzle that was fully assembled and heavily shellacked. He wondered why it was being brought in until he learned it had been used by a veteran with PTSD as part of his healing process. A similar story is related to small, broken toy airplanes.
The museum will not have any admission fees. For ongoing operations, Higgins said the museum will rely on donations, gift shop sales, and sponsors.
He also stressed the need for additional financial donations to cover a list of critical items still needed before the grand opening, as well as a need for more volunteers, including individuals, Scout troops, and students from local schools.
The museum has a recurring “volunteer workday” on the first Saturday of each month. Information about all of this can be found on the museum’s website, stcharlescountyveteransmuseum.com.