The Lowell Milken Center for Unsung Heroes in Fort Scott, Kansas Opens the Doors to History
New Museum Blends Interactive Exhibits with Inspiration
May 24, 2016
FORT SCOTT, KS — Out of the ashes of a devastating fire that gutted much of a small, historic downtown more than a decade ago, the Lowell Milken Center for Unsung Heroes (LMC) has unveiled a new museum dedicated to individuals who have taken extraordinary actions to help others, yet who have been ignored by history until now. Amidst great fanfare and participation by Kansas Governor Sam Brownback and museum founder Lowell Milken, over 200 dignitaries and visitors from around the world looked on and cheered during the speeches and ribbon-cutting.
“This Center for Unsung Heroes could only have been born out of a community that deeply values history, education and diversity. In the decade since the Center opened, you have rolled out the welcome mat to people from 80 countries!” said Milken, who continued, “Now thanks to the scholarship, resources and creativity that will emanate from this new space and beyond, millions more students, educators and communities will have the opportunity to interact with us virtually.”
Located in the heart of Fort Scott, Kansas – about 90 miles south of Kansas City, Mo. – the 6,000 sq. foot museum on the corner of Wall and Main streets has been an eagerly anticipated event in the town where the tragic event led to the loss of seven historic structures and damaged many other properties.
The new exhibit hall, townspeople say, will greatly contribute to the revitalization of this Main Street that’s located near Missouri, Arkansas and Oklahoma and sits at the crossroads of America’s heartland.
The new Hall of Unsung Heroes features interactive exhibits, a 48-seat theater with bench seating, a conference room, a life-sized apple tree, and award-winning student art. This high-tech, interpretive museum is the perfect destination for curious minds – students, educators, families, road trippers, bus tours and history buffs.
On Monday, an event called, “The Power of Unsung Heroes: A Day of Storytelling and Discovery,” was held at the nearby Liberty Theatre. Visiting heroes, together with award-winning educators and guests from across the nation, spent the day reflecting on the legacies and continued relevance of unsung heroes from history, showcasing student-produced plays that honor the heroes’ actions and sharing personal stories.
LMC recognizes individuals who took extraordinary actions in their lives without seeking credit, and who are not acknowledged publicly or in school textbooks. They have been “discovered” by students and teachers through LMC’s unique project-based learning approach. These projects highlight role models who demonstrate courage, conviction, vision, perseverance, responsibility, valor compassion and integrity – values that LMC seeks to foster in young people and communities around the world using Unsung Heroes as role models.
New projects and exhibits are continually in development. A project-based learning guide and various lesson plans are available to interested teachers.
Four Unsung Heroes participated in the grand opening celebration with fascinating stories to tell: Ken Reinhardt and Ann Williams Wedaman, former Little Rock Central High School seniors who faced bullies and beatings for simply being kind to the nine African Americans who integrated their school at the height of the Civil Rights Movement; Lt. Colonel Tran Ngoc “Harry” Hue, remembered as one of the noblest combat leaders of the Vietnam War; and Therese Frare, a journalism student whose haunting 1990 photograph of an AIDS victim on his deathbed became a rallying cry for compassion during a growing HIV epidemic.
Although LMC was launched in 2007, the genesis of the idea came about in 1992 when Milken honored high school history teacher Norm Conard with a Milken Educator Award at Uniontown High School in Kansas. Over the years, Conard, who transitioned from the classroom to become LMC’s executive director, has engaged thousands of students in outstanding history projects that incorporate performing arts, multimedia, and video production. One of those students was Megan Felt.
In 1999, Felt, then a freshman in Conard’s history class, led her peers in the creation of a project that revealed the story of Irena Sendler, a Polish Catholic social worker who saved over 2,500 Jewish children from the Warsaw Ghetto during World War II.
The students wrote a play about Sendler called Life in a Jar, which has since been performed over 350 times throughout the U.S. and Europe. Upon discovering that Sendler was still alive and living in Poland, the Uniontown students and Conard contacted and visited her. Since then, they have worked tirelessly to spread Sendler’s story, which led to her nomination in 2007 for the Nobel Peace Prize, a year before her death. As Milken offered his support for the Life in a Jar project, he and Norm began discussing how they could further promote such educational projects that bring to light unsung heroes like Irena Sendler. In April 2007, the Lowell Milken Center for Unsung Heroes was formally established as a nonprofit 501(c)(3) initiative of the Lowell Milken Family Foundation.
Since 2007, the Center has operated a smaller exhibit gallery in downtown Fort Scott. The popularity of the original space, which attracted visitors from 80 countries, spurred creation of the new Hall of Unsung Heroes. The former gallery will be a "discovery lab" for educators and students to do research and project-based learning on unsung heroes. LMC also has a “virtual address” at www.lowellmilkencenter.org that offers research, resources and high-level competitions for educators, students and others.
The Lowell Milken Center for Unsung Heroes’ regular hours will be 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Friday. Starting in June it will be open Saturdays in the summer from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Admission is free.
Established in 2007, the Lowell Milken Center (LMC) for Unsung Heroes discovers, develops and communicates the stories of Unsung Heroes who have made a profound and positive difference in the course of history. Now in its ninth year, LMC has reached over 1,200,000 students and 9,000 schools in all 50 states, with growing global reach.