Volunteers bring Heritage Center back to life

The main room of the new Monticello Heritage and Cultural Center offers table and chairs for visitors to sit and read through the many books and photos on display. The Heritage Board wants the center to be interactive. A soft opening will be held on July 4. (Photos by Kim Brooks)

The John McDonald Hospital room inside the Heritage Center features items on loan from former hospital nurse Sharon Roller. People will step back in time as they walk through the displays.

The military display features uniforms spanning different wars and eras, many on loan from local residents, including Penny Schoon and Clyde Meyer. The exhibits will change periodically to entice people to keep coming back to learn about Monticello history.
Kim Brooks
Express Editor

     It’s been at least two years in the making, but the Monticello Heritage and Cultural Center will reopen to the public on Wednesday, July 4.

     The local history museum is under new management and reorganization, wanting to offer the community and visitors insight into Monticello’s rich history. The Heritage Board is a group of volunteers determined to keep this town’s history alive.

     The building is the former St. Luke’s Methodist Church, and was built in 1949. It is included in the National Register of Historic Places.

     The center contains numerous historical photos, documents, paperwork, exhibits, and displays featuring items that highlight and tell the story of Monticello.

     Original board members Penny and Dave Schoon are joined by Bob Hendricks (creator of the popular Facebook page “Memories of growing up in Monticello, Iowa”), Tiffany Bacon, Kaye Junion, and Deb Bowman.

     In the fall of 2016, Hendricks visited Pennington Square Assisted Living Center to showcase some of his Monticello memorabilia he collected over the years. One of the pieces of memorabilia was an unidentified wedding photo. Hendricks said he kept the photo because of the photographer, who worked in Monticello. Upon showing the photo to the residents, he found the photo’s owner: Vera Schoon.

     “Vera saw it and said, ‘That’s my wedding picture!’” shared Hendricks.

     So, he gave Vera the photo to keep.

     “It makes it all worth it,” recalled Hendricks of finding unique Monticello items and helping people to find connections to them.

     A week later, Vera’s daughter-in-law, Penny Schoon, approached Hendricks and asked whether he’d be interested in volunteering to serve on the Heritage Center board.

     “I saw their ad in the paper asking for volunteers,” said Hendricks.

     As a collector of Monticello antiques and collectibles, Hendricks said he always hoped, at some point, to have the ability to show them off. His work with the Heritage Center allows him to showcase much of his Monticello history as well.

     Running the “Memories of Monticello” Facebook page, Hendricks said people get excited when they see pictures of people or places in Monticello’s history. Followers of his page share stories and reminisce about their favorite Monticello memories.

     All of this is coming together at the new and improved Heritage Center.

     “We’re all learning so much about history here,” Penny said as they’ve been spending months going through the items inside the two-story Heritage Center. “I’ve never thought of myself as a history buff before.”

     Hendricks said the goal is provide visitors with changing exhibits, to keep people coming back again and again. Unlike a museum, which typically doesn’t change its displays, the Heritage Center wants to help educate and entertain its guests through always-changing displays.

     Before any arranging took place, the Heritage Center purchased a computer and documented every piece of memorabilia inside the building. Everything was given a number, every display case an ID.

     “That was a huge undertaking,” said Hendricks. “But it’s all documented now for the next generation.”

     Even those items that are on loan have been documented as well, and will continue to be updated.

     The main room of the center, which served as a reception hall/event hall years ago, contains several round tables and chairs for people to sit at, open a history book and relive Monticello’s history.

     The shelves around the room contain various areas of local interest: Monticello alumni, Monticello’s sesquicentennial, Monticello High School yearbooks, former business ledgers, and dozens and dozens of bound books surrounding topics such as: Monticello businesses, people, the Great Jones County Fair, fires, John McDonald Hospital, the clock tower, Dr. Benadom, and so much more.

     Those books contain essays written by former MHS students as part of retire-teacher Deb Bowman’s class “Mysteries of Monticello.” Each year, Bowman took her students on walking tours of Monticello and had them pick various topics to research and write about. Many of the essays also contain photos, too.

     “It gives people different perspectives from the students about local history,” said Hendricks, “and all before the Internet and Google.”

     Bowman kept each of the essays and donated them to the Heritage Center for people to enjoy.

     Through the main room, you walk into the John McDonald Hospital room, with many of the items on loan from former hospital nurse Sharon Roller.

     There is also an exhibit honoring military service members of the community, past and present, and multiple cases containing memorabilia about the Boy Scouts, Monticello businesses, and more.

     “It’s all a mix of old and new,” said Penny of items that were already housed at the center and those that people have donated.

     Hendricks said they have room for changing exhibits, for people to bring in items they want to share with the public or feel passionate about. Hendricks said he’s already been in contact with groups supporting the Ely Stone Bridge and Mon Maq Dam to see if they want to display their items as well.

     “If you’re passionate about, we can display it,” he said. “We want to get the community involved, and have this be a place where they’re proud to come and form connections.”

     Hendricks said want makes the Heritage Center different from a museum is the ever-changing exhibits and interactive contents.

     Junion also encouraged school classes to bring the students through to give them insight into this town’s history.

     The Heritage Center went from a two-story museum to a one-floor cultural center. The board felt it needed to be handicapped accessible for all to enjoy. Perhaps in the near future, they might hold guest speakers or activities such as painting Hidden Rocks of Monticello inside one of the spare rooms.

     “As we acquire more stuff, we’ll see if we want to expand,” said Hendricks.

     Along the way, several Silver Service high school students volunteered their time as well. The Heritage board wants to start a rolling list of active volunteers to “work” inside the Heritage Center to allow it remain open regular hours. Hendricks it’ll take a few dozen volunteers so the job doesn’t rely on just a few people.

     Newly purchased security cameras monitor the building, inside and out. The board wants people to know that their items are properly cared for.

     They are also looking into adding a small area for a gift shop, full of local pieces of take-home history.

     The Heritage Center will hold its soft opening on July 4 from 1 to 5 p.m. They encourage families in town to stop by and walk through the center at their leisure. There will be a rolling DVD playing throughout the event featuring Monticello’s sesquicentennial parade and celebration from 1986.

     “This will be a feeler to help get our name out there,” said Hendricks.

     After the holiday, the center will close for a month or so to make any changes/tweaks and plan to have an official ribbon cutting in the fall.

     Aside from the physical work of rearranging the displays and cataloging everything, the board also installed new LED lighting and a new fuse box. A lot of general maintenance was needed throughout.

     To keep up on the latest with the Monticello Heritage and Cultural Center, visit their Facebook page.

     The Heritage Center is located at 211 N. Sycamore St. behind Karde’s C-Store.



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