New Exhibit Features the Late John Irvin
By Brittany Tutt, C-T
April 28, 2016

CAPTION: Pictured is the late John Irvin wall at the museum to be filled on Sunday with memorabilia from Irvin's life.

A new exhibit will soon be incorporated into the Grand River Historical Museum in Chillicothe featuring the late John Melvin Irvin. John Irvin was a fixture in the Chillicothe community before passing away this year at 104 years old. Irvin lived in Chillicothe for 100 of those 104 years, and he often was the go-to man for information about the history of all things Chillicothe. Irvin was born in Chillicothe in 1911 to Clifford and Maude (Jarrell) Irvin. He graduated from Chillicothe High School in 1929 and then attended the University of Missouri-Columbia. He married the late Virgie Kibler (who preceeded him in death in 2010) in 1935. Irvin was the founder and president of Irvinbilt Company, a general contracting firm.

C-T Photo / Brittany Tutt

Irvinbilt constructed several churches, schools and businesses in Chillicothe as well as in other towns in Missouri, Iowa and Kansas. The company's first commercial project in Chillicothe was the Ben Bolt Theater, an architectural showpiece. Irvin retired from Irvinbilt in 1977, but he continued to be involved with building projects. Irvin also helped start a few organizations in Chillicothe including the Chillicothe Area Arts Council and the Chillicothe Rotary Foundation. He was a member and leader in many organizations and served on the board of directors for Hope Haven Industries, the Chillicothe Area Chamber of Commerce, the Chillicothe Rotary Club, and the Salvation Army.

Museum curator, Pam Clingerman, was working on the John Irvin exhibit Wednesday afternoon. Clingerman had many donated items representing Irvin's life spread out on a long table in the museum. Some of the donated items expected to be incorporated into the exhibit include: Irvin's christening dress, childhood photos, paintings, photos of buildings Irvinbilt constructed and much more. Clingerman is to have the exhibit completed by the museum's annual Spring Tea this Sunday afternoon from 1 until 4 p.m.

Clingerman had finished the biography that will be incorporated into the John Irvin display by Wednesday afternoon. It reads: "John Melvin Irvin was born July 11, 1911, to Clifford and Maude (Jarrell) Irvin in Chillicothe, Missouri. He attended school here graduating from Chillicothe High School in 1929, then going to attend the University of Missouri-Columbia. He was introduced to construction as a day laborer, working for H.H. Tinsley who built homes for his mother - Mrs. Clifford Irvin. It might be noted that Mrs. Irvin and her mother were the original house "flippers" - and that hobby turned into a lucrative business. After graduating from college in 1934, John spent the next five years building bars and outbuildings for the Prudential Insurance Company in Kansas. He then returned to Chillicothe building both commercial and residential buildings.

World War II meant lean years for the Irvinbilt Company, but John took on many jobs including building wagon boxes and hog houses - anything to keep the company producing. Then in 1949, he completed the Ben Bolt Theater and at that point the Irvinbilt Company took off. Since that year, Irvinbilt worked on some 167 commercial jobs in 55 towns in Iowa, Missouri and Kansas - including the courthouse at Liberal, Kansas; a multi-million dollar sewage treatment plant at Kirksville, St. Francis hospital in Marceline; the architectural award-winning Labette County school at Altamont, Kansas, and turnpike service areas on the Kansas Turnpike as well as over 50 school buildings. In Chillicothe, in addition to the Ben Bolt Theater, Irvinbilt constructed Field School, the first addition to the old senior high school, Dewey school and additions, Dabney School (then Garrison school), United Methodist Church, First Baptist Church, the orignal Hedrick Medical Center, the addition to the Calvary Baptist Church, Community Bank, Park Center Shopping Center, and the remodeling of the First Christian Church. In 1962, John purchased the Murray Windle ready-mix cement business, assuming the presidency and changing the name to Midwest Concrete-Asphalt. John retired in 1977, but maintained an office at the Irvinbilt headquarters located on Jackson and Elm where he continued to be involved with building projects in Chillicothe, Arrow Rock and Canton, Missouri.

As an avid supporter of civic betterment and the fine arts John was one of the founders of the Chillicothe Area Arts Council and the Chillicothe Rotary Foundation, as well as a board member for the Chillicothe Salvation Army, and Hope Haven Industries. He also served on the boards of the friends of Arrow Rock, the Arrow Rock Lyceum Theatre, Culver Stockton College, and the Missouri Council on the Arts; Missouri Mansion Preservation, Inc., and the Missouri Advisory Board on Historic Preservation. John was a 93-year member of First Christian Church and over the years served in many capacities, including Sunday school teacher and elder. In addition, he authored two books: The Czech Escape honoring two Chillicothe friends, Dr. George and Erika Mandler, who came to Chillicothe as Holocaust survivors; and Ed Lee honoring the Chillicothe veterinarian who was a neighbor to the Irvins when John was growing up. Ed Lee's land eventually became the building site for Hope Haven Industries.

John passed away in 2016, at the age of 104 years, and he is buried in Edgewood Cemetery, Chillicothe.

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