Long-Time Museum Curator Honored for Service
Published: Tuesday, November 18, 2008, C-T

CAPTION: Dr. John Neal (center) was honored recently for his 35 years of volunteer service as curator of the Grand River Historical Society museum. A plaque in his honor was unveiled by society president Dr. Frank Stark (right) and will be placed the museum. A proclamation declaring Oct. 23, 2008 as Dr. John Neal Day was presented by Chillicothe Mayor Chuck Haney. At right is Neal's wife, Carol.

C-T Photo / Catherine Stortz Ripley

The Grand River Historical Society's dinner held recently at the Elks Lodge to honor Dr. John Neal, retiring volunteer curator at their historical museum, was well attended. Jeff Frampton and his crew at Hy-Vee catered the dinner and the barbershop quartet, The Groomsmen, from Princeton, provided entertainment. An open forum was also presented about the development of the museum and Dr. Neal's contribution over about 35 years as director of the museum.

The banquet room was decorated with special ceiling lighting and candlelight on the tables, with tables arranged in groups and an elevated speakers table. John Cook gave the invocation and society president Dr. Frank Stark presided over the evening’s affair. After the meal and the Groomsmen's program of barbershop singing, Mayor Chuck Haney, was invited to the podium to present a proclamation from the office of mayor, for the city of Chillicothe, to declare Thursday, Oct. 23, 2008, "Dr. John Neal Day."

After the presentation, Dr. Neal thanked the mayor and asked him to convey to the council members and to the citizens his appreciation for the recognition. Dr. Neal had prepared some "thank-you" comments in appreciation of the many people who attended the dinner and to those who have contributed to the creation of a "new institution" of a museum in Livingston County, that is the place of pride, usefulness, education and admiration. He indicated a sincere desire to thank all the generous people who have given items of historical significance to the museum, for preservation to "tell the story" of how the area developed into a good place to live and raise a family.

Dr. Neal introduced his family members who were present that included daughters Cheryl Volckmann, of California; Lori Duncan and husband, Randy, and granddaughter Jessica Wilson, all from Overland Park, Kan. Sons Dr. David Neal and Greg were unable to attend. Lori made a presentation to her parents of a collage of pictures with the four children and spouses, outside museum pictures, and an inside picture of Bob Skinner, POW and a long-time family friend, and a composition she had written to convey from the family their understanding of the significance of being of service.

Dr. Neal has always appreciated the founding and charter members who saw the need to preserve artifacts that would tie the past with the present, so the citizens could appreciate the ingenuity, struggles and ups and downs it took to develop the community’s present state of well-being. George Somerville was the founder and 17 people are listed as charter members. Dr. Neal expressed the community's appreciation for the founding and charter members that persisted with the foresight to preserve tangible historical objects that "tell the story" of our area's development.

Dr. Neal told the Constitution-Tribune he had failed to follow his script and list and had omitted some important people for which to give tribute. "So, I want to make amends, through your newspaper, and do it right," Neal said. Dr. Stark topped the curator's list of people to honor for 25 years of leadership as president and contributions to the development of the museum. "His leadership in the business of the museum and his mechanical and craftsmanship skills have been a tremendous contribution to the growth of your museum," Dr. Neal told those gathered. Another serious oversight, Dr. Neal said, was failing to pay tribute to the late Jane Stark, who was a talented co-curator a few years before her illness and death. "We all appreciate her input and memory and contribution to the society and museum," he said. "She was a talented person and fine asset to the museum." The retiring curator said he wanted to emphasize the work of the docent staff and RSVP office staff. "These volunteers are so essential to the functions of a museum and to the public enjoyment," Dr. Neal said. "I salute each and every one of them and extend thanks from all of us."

He asked Doris Packham to stand and be recognized as the "docent's docent" for her willingness to be available many times during the exhibit season. Another group he wanted to publicly honor are the members of the museum's board of directors, past and present. Their work as directors and the museum's policy has been to do "walk-throughs" starting with the "off-season" to evaluate exhibits and to replace or enhance them. Then, to come to "work nights" as volunteers to upgrade, clean and present the exhibits, and they also take turns as custodians of the month. "Fifteen or so people can have ideas for presenting the artifacts best to tell their story," Dr. Neal said. Nancy Hoyt was on the curator's list for her work to edit the The Herald, which is the quarterly communication to more than 700 members. "This is an important and big part of our operation and she does it so well," Dr. Neal said. Dr. Neal also wanted to express gratitude to Don Underwood and F.R. Bailey for their idea to utilize Bailey's portraits as an incentive for individuals to become life members of the museum. "It was a great success for us and the claimants," Dr. Neal said.

Dr. Neal paid tribute to John Irvin for his interest and his insight to utilize the building donated to the society by Murry Windle and his daughter, Pat Webber. It was a utility building of the Chillicothe Business College and Irvin helped design a conversion for a museum that was dedicated Sept. 23, 1979. I.W. Waffle and his wife, Mary, donated $25,000 as a challenge gift if the community would match the amount in 10 years. The community did match the sum and the museum also received the residue of their estate for operation and maintenance. There is a plaque and room in the museum dedicated to the Waffles. The first full summer of operation was 1980.

Howard Leech, also on the list to be honored, was the fourth president of the society and served for 11-plus years. He also signed the contract with Irvinbilt Co. to convert the Chillicothe Business School building for museum use. Doris Wilson was asked to stand and be recognized during the evening for her many years as assistant curator. She is a talented designer and created many of the displays in the museum from donated historic artifacts. "She was nice and easy to work with and the exhibits she created were well conceived," Neal said. Dr. Neal took the opportunity to honor the late Elton Norman, a life-long native of Chillicothe, and a constant resource person for local historic information. "I was really impressed with his recall of former businesses, people, families and sometimes could give me more than I really wanted or needed to know," Neal commented, adding that Norman was also a good mentor on the golf course.

"It was a very pleasant and memorable evening," Dr. Neal said. "It was well organized by Mary Underwood and Louise Reasoner, Dr. Stark, Marvin Holcer and, probably, others and I want to thank them and the community for enabling us to create an institution of its caliber." Dr. Neal noted that Calvin Stone and his sister, Grace Stone, of Utica, gave the historical society a big boost for further development. "As Chillicothe grows so will the importance of the museum," he said. "We appreciate the media coverage and would recommend reading the Dateline books published by the Constitution-Tribune, edited by Cathy Ripley for authentic history of our area," Dr. Neal said. "Thanks for a memorable evening," he said to all in attendance.

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