Local history, global impact

Published 4:24 am Saturday, March 23, 2013

—This feature originally appeared in Progress 2013. Get a copy at the Austin Daily Herald office, 310 Second St. NE.

A small town boasts a museum showing how important local soldiers are to our nation’s history

History books in Mower County tell students about the wars U.S. soldiers fought over the past century. Yet the books can’t show what those soldiers felt, thought, or experienced like the Adams Veterans Museum can. After more than five years, members of the Adams American Legion collected thousands of uniforms, medals, patches, rifles and relics from local veterans to tell their tales and carry on the memories of what it was like to serve their country.

“There’s a lot of history here,” said Jerry Mathies, one of the museum’s board members.

Legion members banded together to buy part of the building next to the Legion Post 146, off of West Main Street in Adams a little more than five years ago. They used the layout of what used to be part of a furniture store and started to fill it with memorabilia from local families.

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Mathies will point out various items when he takes people on a tour through the museum. On a stand just a short way from the door, there’s a door from a Humvee that was damaged with an IED roadside explosive device. The door was donated by National Guard members from Austin, Mathies said. Visitors can see various punctures in the door, as well as the broken pieces of thick glass that once formed a window, the results of an improvised explosive device.

Not far from the door are uniforms from Vietnam, like the ones Mathies used to wear. He was drafted into the Army in 1966, served in Vietnam in 1967, and was discharged in 1968. He kept a diary during his time there, which he donated to the museum.

And less than 10 feet away from where his diary sits is a large shelf with photos of veterans who’ve passed away. Richard Mathies’ photo is on that shelf. Richard is Jerry’s brother, who passed away in Cambodia in 1970.

“My mother’s got his medals, but she’s not ready to give them up yet,” Jerry said.

Many residents have contributed other precious items, as well. Dave Whalen contributed his collection of weapons, ranging from Civil War rifles to modern-era guns, for people to remember what local residents like him did.

“When I’m gone, I know where they’re going to be,” Whalen said. “That’s forever.”

Mathies said donated items stay there, and the museum is ready to accept more items from area veterans. The museum won’t accept uniforms, as board members have hundreds to potentially display.

The museum is open on the first and third Saturdays of the month during chicken feeds at the Legion, but Mathies said anyone can call the Legion at 507-582-3266 to schedule a visit. In addition, board members are willing to open the museum to area schools or social studies classes interested in finding ways to tie local history to large class units.

“It’s real nice for a small town,” Mathies said.