One of my beats over the last three years has been the Blount County Memorial Museum and the Blount County Historical Society. I enjoy the assignment because every time curator Amy Rhudy calls me and says, “I have a story you might be interested in,” I’ve discovered she’s right. She introduces me to someone who is making history, been a part of history, or has touched history.
Yes, you can touch history. My best example is meeting an elderly man at the World War II museum in Melbourne, Australia. During World War II, he was a teenager helping his aunt who owned a small hotel in Melbourne. He told me about meeting and talking to the U.S. Marines who came to southern Australia for rest after grueling and bloody battles on the island-hopping campaign in the march by our military forces to defeat Japan.
Some, not many, he said, told him of the hardships they endured, as well as the comfort they found in the simplicity of finding a room with a bed and clean sheets. He was mesmerizing, and I was in tears by the time he finished. That man touched history, and I touched him, giving me a link to those young Marines, most of whom are now gone.
I’ve found, mostly through Rhudy and the volunteers of the BCMM and the BCHS, many historical stories that have tugged at me to the point they wrote themselves. I was just the conduit. They include, but are certainly not limited to, the life of Mary Gordon Duffee, the author and poet from Blount Springs, the excellent short stories of Darnell Whited about growing up in Blount County in her book Footprints in the Dust, and the many things I learned during Alabama’s 200th birthday celebration and the traveling exhibit that Rhudy was able to bring to Blount County for a month.
I learned from Rhudy, for instance, Blount County is older than the state because it became a county while Alabama was still a territory. Probably the most important story to me was about Lonnie Butts, a U.S. Army medic who gave his life in Vietnam to save others. If you missed that one and want to read it, you can find it at www.blountcountian.com/articles/rogers ramblings-13/. That story led me to learn more about 19 other local young men who died as heroes in that war.
Rhudy and the museum’s volunteers work hard every day to pack an eclectic array of displays in the small space they have. They change the exhibits often enough to make a visit always interesting and worthwhile. They assist anyone with genealogy and research about local history and folklore.
More importantly, they do it with excitement and enthusiasm. Truly, their eyes light up and it’s easy to “see” the smile that emerges behind their COVID-19 masks. While doing all that, they have spent the last year planning an honor flight to take veterans of World War II, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War to Washington, D.C., to acknowledge the service and sacrifice those heroes made to our country. The flight is planned for an as yet unannounced date in 2021.
My hat is off to Rhudy (who has been the curator for 20 years), Laura Roberson (a former RN and a wizard of genealogy), Leonard Yarbrough (a fine poet who happens to be a retired NASA engineer), Margaret Hudson (an extraordinary public school teacher, now retired), Richard Weiss (a former law enforcement officer still serving his community through his volunteerism at the museum), Stanley Moss (another retired school teacher who is the go-to guy for Latin references), and the many others who help make the BCMM a success. This staff is just as eclectic as the exhibits, yet they all work together to make the museum a success.
The only negative I can say about the museum is its size, the area they have for exhibits. Truth is, the museum has many, many more items in storage that could fill a space at minimum three times as large as what it has now. Fortunately, there have been recent talks among county officials about giving the museum more space in the future.
Visit the museum’s website at www.blountmuseum.org to keep up with everything going on. The doors are open Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday, from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. They are still practicing pandemic precautions, so please wear a mask and maintain social distancing.