Just in time for Memorial Day weekend, the Highland County Historical Society is preparing to unveil its upgraded and redesigned Military Room.
The room is located in the historical society’s Highland House Museum in Hillsboro and will be open this weekend from from 1-4 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday and on Monday for two hours immediately following Memorial Day services at the Highland County Courthouse, or approximately 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m.
John Kellis, a historical society trustee and its finance chairman, said the renovation has been a long time coming.
“The museum’s 2015 building project that required the board to reconstruct the back wall and entrance was a large undertaking,” Kellis said. “While that project was daunting, it offered opportunities to make other needed improvements at the Highland House Museum. The society was able to move its medical archives into their own room, freeing up additional space in the Military Room for the archives displayed there. While initial discussions included a good cleaning and painting, as the inventory got underway it became obvious that much more work was needed and that this was the time to do it since everything was already in disarray. The challenge was that the project had not been budgeted by the board of trustees for 2016. The opportunity to create a new Military Room was simply overdue and too exciting for the board and staff to ignore.”
So, Vicki Knauff, John Glaze and Kellis started brainstorming new ways to better display the military archives, photos and documents. The plan always included repairing the walls from years of nail holes and cracks in the plaster, and repainting the walls, woodwork and ceiling. But suddenly the society had the opportunity to include new lighting for the room, a new picture railing to avoid any future use of nails, new display cases, and upgrades to existing electrical outlets.
“The old room tended to mix all archives by where we had space. John Glaze and Vicki started from scratch to design a much more organized space with others offering suggestions,” Kellis said. “The new design is aimed at providing sectors within the room, focusing on different wars and the archives from the men and women of our Armed Services. The room is now separated into a Civil War section, a World War I section, and section highlighting World War II, another highlighting Vietnam, and an area focused on women in the military.
He said the new display cases allowed the society to bring smaller and more fragile items such as medals and documents out for the public to view.
“It is very exciting to see this history emerge from the closets into the open for everyone to enjoy,” said Knauff, the Highland House director. “We hope it will prompt new donations to the museum and the military room.”
The design team was also able to highlight local service men and women so the public can better see their contributions. There are several local service men and women highlighted with collections and other uniforms, weapons, documents, medals, and memorabilia, Kellis said.
Once a plan was settled on, Kellis said the next obstacle was to find a way to pay for the renovation. He said Linda and Terry Collins agreed to help pay for new display cases found in Chillicothe. Jane Nye Woodhouse and Linda Freedman saw the society’s discussion on social media and made donations. Kellis and his sister, Deborah (Kellis) Harsha, offered memorial donations in the name of their late father and World War II veteran Charles Rodney Kellis. Hillsboro VFW Post 9094 donated $500 to the project. Sherwin-Williams donated the paint for the room in memory of its longtime employee and military wife, Martha Jane Kellis. Lowe’s donated a portion of the track lighting for the project and Precision Painting offered to paint the room and repair the plaster at cost.
“It has been a real pleasure to see people step up to help when they see that you have a worthwhile project,” Knauff said.
Kellis added, “We were staring at a major expenditure if we were going to do it properly. Now with the donations we can make these upgrades without having to dip into the historical society operating fund.”
Then, Kellis said, the society was surprised by another substantial donation that will allow additional improvements to the room, both now and in the future. That donation was made in memory of John McDermott, who recently passed away. McDerMott’s daughter, Kris McDermott Wilkerson, told the society that the family was looking for that right kind of local donation. When they saw the Military Room project description on the HCHS website, they thought it was perfect since her mother, Helen McDermott, often volunteered at the museum and her father loved local history.
“On behalf of the society and the trustees and staff, we again thank everyone for stepping up and helping where they can,” said historical society volunteer and webmaster John Glaze. “There are so many exciting projects in the works that it is sometimes hard to focus on them one at a time. Come find out how you can be a part of one.”
Kellis said the Military Room is just one of many museum displays honoring Hillsboro and Highland County history. There are displays and rooms dedicated to the memories of C.S. Bell, Mother Thompson and the Women’s Christian Temperance Union, Casper Collins, Milton Caniff, Uncle Orrie, and three natives of Hillsboro who became governors – Hugh Allen Trimble and Joseph Benson Foraker in Ohio, and Charles Gossett, who became governor of Idaho in 1944.
There is also a self-guided tour for the Highland House that’s accessible with smart phones or tablets, as well as a paper version to guide visitors through the museum.
“The VFW has indicated that they may have some additional uniforms and other items to donate to the Military Room exhibit,” Kellis said. “We are convinced there are many wonderful items people might be interested in donating and/or loaning to the museum. Feel free to contact us if you have an item to donate.”
Kellis said he hopes to soon release information highlighting the process of donating items to the museum.
Editor’s Note – Information for this article was provided by John Kellis.