Complete slate for the grand opening of the St. John’s Military Academy Museum
By TIM UNRUH
The normal dress for Mike Wagner is a plaid shirt, blue jeans, and work boots, but this coming weekend is different.
Accompanying his long black and gray beard – trimmed and groomed – the diesel mechanic and businessman from Hays acquired an Ivy League wardrobe for the grand opening of the St. John’s Military School Historical Museum.
For much of the three eventful days – many of which are geared towards raising funds for the museum – the 1991 SJMS graduate will don suits and ties to greet his beloved caddy mates, former teachers and staff, and supporters, when they visit the old campus north of Salina.
They will pay homage to the school which closed in May 2019, also remember and celebrate their times and the blessings gained by this 131 year old institution.
“St. John gave me a way to use my own skills to improve myself, when I didn’t even know I had them, ”said Wagner.
Founded in 1887, the tradition-rich boys’ school, which opened 29 years after Salina’s founding and 26 years after the state of Kansas was established, closed in May 2019 after graduation. of the 131st Corps.
The reasons given were a low registration rate, higher costs and negative publicity.
The campus at 110 W. Otis Avenue, north of Salina, was transferred to St. Francis Ministries, but the use of Linger Hall, the rectangular building that borders N. Ninth Street and housed classrooms for decades, was intended for use as a museum.
It houses more than a century of memories. Uniforms, swords, photographs and hundreds of other artifacts decorate the attractive room.
Outside are bronze busts of SJMS leaders and part of the moving Vietnam Memorial Wall named after U.S. Air Force Captain Dennis Pugh, of Saline County, who died in Laos on March 19, 1970. .
The Old Boys Association, dissolved in 2019, transferred its leadership to the museum’s board of directors. Linger Hall was renovated with operating profits from the school, said Larry Britegam, former SJMS board member and former board chair.
He and three other board members, Dale Browning, Rob Exline and Tom Pestinger, have been asked to transfer the school’s remaining assets to the museum. The trustees also created an endowment with the Greater Salina Community Foundation, Britegam said, part of which will be used to maintain the museum in the future. He added that the income from this fund will also provide two scholarships of $ 5,000 per year, in memory of Tom Orton.
A member of the 1949 school class, Orton, of Denver, created an endowment for the museum and scholarship, Wagner said.
About 100 guests visited the museum, mostly from a first glimpse of the Salina Region Chamber of Commerce on April 22, and members of America’s Vietnam Veterans Chapter 809 from Salina, who threw there a glance weeks earlier.
So far, said Kent Tretheway, the volunteer and curatorial director, the first impressions have been excellent. A veteran of the US Air Force, he was a member of the SJMS class of 1971.
“They were quite amazed at what we were able to accomplish in a short period of time, with the number of artifacts and other memorabilia that we were able to accumulate and display,” he said.
The museum celebrates the entire history of the school, Britegam said.
This week marks the first meeting since the school closed.
“Anyone who had any attachment to school felt the pain. It was so important to so many people for 131 years, ”said Britegam, who attended SJMS from September 1967 until May 1969.
“You cannot express the depth of sadness at having to shut down, of the young men who attended school for 131 years,” said Dale Browning of Denver, a member of the SJMS class of 1955.
He has served as an advisor, teacher, coach and “maintenance technician”, who served as interim president from 2007 to 2009 and director in 2009, and has served on the board since 1976.
Browning was involved in the acquisition of Linger Hall for the museum and will be making his first visit this week.
“I can’t wait to be there,” he said. “I couldn’t be more proud of the job they’ve done. I am deeply grateful to Kent Tretheway for ensuring the completion of the museum. He is a dedicated and committed person.
The legacy of the St. John’s Military School will now be preserved for future generations, Mr. Browning said.
“The museum helps to perpetuate the legacy of St. John’s and its importance to the history of Salina,” he said.
Wagner has other reasons to celebrate Thursday through Sunday.
“Friday is the grand opening, my 48th birthday and our 30th class reunion,” he said. “I want this to bring the community of St. John’s and the community of Salina together to carry on the history of SJMS.
Museum board chairman Wagner and three other members of his class will greet fellow duffers with an extravagant touch of dress that includes school colors, starting at 9 a.m. Thursday for the scramble golf tournament four-person Muleskinner at Vandy’s Golf Course, (formerly Great Life), 1800 S. Marymount Road.
“We are going to unveil a new look for the Salina golf course,” he said. “It should be fun. I have never played golf for a day in my life.
His quartet includes Darren Johnson, Grapevine, Texas; Trevor Sullivan, Kansas City; and Aric Inglett, Winfield.
A large number of events on the campus, now home to St. Francis Ministries, begin at 8 am Friday morning with registration and a museum visit for SJMS alumni and former faculty and staff.
The opening is from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. and the public is invited. Admission information and an itinerary are available at sjmsmuseum.org.
A museum barbecue and social event that includes SJMS class reunions of 1961, 1971, 1981, 1991, 2001 and 2011 begins at 6:15 pm at the Quality Inn, 2110 W. Crawford Street.
A memorial service for two icons of St. John’s Military School – Liz Duckers and Donna Vanier – will be held at 9 am Saturday at Armstrong Chapel on campus. The public is invited.
Anticipating that the chapel will fill up, organizers are also looking to broadcast the service live to the museum and possibly other locations, Tretheway said. Stay tuned to sjmsmuseum.org for updates on these efforts.
A continental breakfast will follow at 9 am in the museum.
Duckers was the wife of Keith Duckers, who served as president / superintendent of St. John’s from 1968 to 1993, also a former mayor of Salina and city commissioner. Liz Duckers, a former reporter and columnist for the Salina Journal, was known for her gardens and landscaping on the SJMS grounds. She also edited and reread the school newspaper “The Skirmisher” long after her retirement. The school made her an honorary colonel.
“Liz has played an important role in school for most of her working life as an adult,” said Britegam. “She was a teacher and an image of a mother. She and Keith have dedicated their lives to helping children. What better life is there?
“Keith was personally one of my first mentors. I have so much respect for what he has done to help children become more productive citizens.
Donna and Jack Vanier were longtime benefactors of SJMS. The Vanier Academic Center and the Jack Vanier Hall on campus are examples.
“They have supported us with other projects and annual scholarships for years,” said Britegam. “Donna volunteered at the school for several years, was a board member and fundraiser a lot. The chapel was one of his pride and joy. She said, “You can play with any building, but don’t bother with my chapel.” “
The memorial service is one of the most important events, Browning said.
“(Duckers and Vanier) have done a lot for the school and also for Salina,” he said. “The service will renew our memories of two very beautiful ladies.”
The special weekend ends with the Muleskinner Dinner starting at 6 p.m. Saturday at Tony’s Pizza Events Center.
An official museum unveiling is a major reason to come together, Wagner said, and events are planned to help raise funds for the completion of phase two of the museum project.
This includes the construction of a brick walkway that takes visitors near the Muleskinner Statue, Guernsey / Loy Memorial, Liberty Tree, SJMS Veterans Memorials, and Flagpole. The promenade will be lined with commemorative flag markers and named cobblestones.
Museum leaders aim to raise enough funds to complete phase two by the end of this year.
Relocating the chapel and adding a parking lot closer to the museum were also mentioned as future projects, Wagner said.
“I am extremely proud of this museum. This is how I feel, ”he said. “I’m excited.”
. . .
To visit the St. John’s Military School Historical Museum after this weekend, call Kent Tretheway, Principal / Curator, at (316) 371-9558. Donations are welcome.
To learn more about the grand opening and other events from Thursday to Saturday, send an email [email protected], or visit sjmsmuseum.org to learn more, donate, purchase event tickets online, or arrange other methods.