Veterans museum takes shape

Construction begins on the St. Charles County Veterans Museum located in O’Fallon with plans to open in April 2019

By Brett Auten

Ralph Barrale’s vision is becoming a reality.

Barrale, a World War II Veteran who landed on Utah Beach in Normandy and fought at the Battle of the Bulge with General Patton, was with the first troops to liberate Dachau, the oldest concentration camp in Germany. Barrale has a number of accomplishments on his resume. He successfully lobbied the state to name the Highway 364 Bridge Veterans Memorial Bridge. He later lobbied St. Charles County municipalities to rename the South Service Road to Veterans Memorial Parkway.

But Barrale always pushed and lobbied for something more personal and heartfelt, a St. Charles County Veterans Museum. Unfortunately, Barrale passed away in October at the age of 94 but last week, interior construction began on the new St. Charles County Veterans Museum, located at 410 E. Elm Street in O’Fallon. The St. Charles County Veterans Museum is a 501C tax exempt, nonprofit organization and they are in search of assistance in all shapes and sizes.

“Right now, we’re out there looking for a little help to make Ralph’s dream a reality” says Jim Higgins, a St. Charles County Veterans Museum Executive Board member, said. “We are visiting home improvement stores, contractors, department stores and other suppliers for building supplies and/or funds.”

The museum’s mission is to inspire, inform and engage the residents of St. Charles County to honor the memories of St. Charles County Veterans who served the United States of America with patriotic valor.

“We hope to open our museum in April of 2019,” Renee Essary, an executive board member, said. “Our plans go well beyond the building. Our design for the grounds include: Veterans Family Healing Gardens, The Grove – a shaded picnic area with a dry creek and Seabee Tribute bridge, Heroes Walk, Veterans Memorial Pavers and much more. We’re not only designing a museum to honor St. Charles County Veterans, we’re also creating a park-like setting that people from all around can enjoy.”

Dorris Keeven-Franke is St. Charles County Veterans Museum’s curator. She is formerly the archivist for St. Charles County Historical Society, an administrative assistant at the Washington Historical Society and project director for several Missouri Local Records projects.

“Ralph’s dream inspires us,” Keeven-Franke said. “It’s great to have highways, roads and bridges named in honor of veterans but what he really wanted was have a museum where the public can walk in and see the stories and experience and understand what they did for us.”

Every veteran has a story and the board members are doing their best to reach out to veterans and their families to preserve those stories. Stories can be shared through a uniform, photos, medals or other military or wartime memorabilia – items that bring those stories to life – stories of a veteran’s life and his service to our country – stories that should be told and passed along to future generations.

“We are really interested in special items that the public can relate more personally. Not just patches, badges, medals and uniforms. We’re off to a good start on that. I’m really hoping individuals will come forward with items that are special to their family. Things that tell a story about that person.”

For more information, including how to help or to donate, visit www.stcharlescountyveteransmuseum.com or call 636-400-7698.

“Ralph’s hope is that visitors to the museum will leave saying, ‘Wow, what a place,” Higgins said. “We cannot do this without support from our community. This is a great opportunity to be at the forefront of this important community effort. So far, the response has been tremendous. We’re also looking for sponsors.”

CUTLINE: Brett Auten photos

Cover-veterans1 Pictured outside the St. Charles County Veterans Museum, located at 410 E. Elm Street in O’Fallon, is, from left, Jim Higgins, Dorris Keeven-Franke and Art Minor

Cover-veterans2-7 These are some of the items that will be on display at the St. Charles County Veterans Museum.