Vietnam War Veterans Visit St. John’s Military Academy History Museum
Standing in the lobby of Linger Hall, adorned with 131 years of memorabilia from St. John’s Military School, Doug Randolph proudly pointed to a large mural.
“My office was right there,” said the retired teacher, coach, athletic director and principal of the former private school.
Its proud history can be found in the transformed building, known today as the St. John’s Military Academy Historical Museum, at the western end of the North Salina campus.
“They fixed it really well. It’s just beautiful, ”Randolph said on a private visit Friday with the American Veterans America Chapter 809 of Vietnam, based in Salina.
“I was pleasantly surprised. It’s quite nice, ”said Jim Deister, chapter president. “It’s a shame that SJMS isn’t always around, but this (museum) is a great tribute.”
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Mary Landes, associate member of VVA, pointed to an exhibit with a photo of her great-grandfather, John Kane Landes, an 1897 SJMS graduate from Enid, Okla.
“He worked as a salesperson for John Vanier at the Weber mill,” said Mary Landes. She is the executive director of The Temple, 336 S. Santa Fe (also known as the Salina Innovation Foundation), where the VVA section is located.
Museum director and curator Kent Tretheway, a 1971 graduate of St. John’s (83rd Corps), led the section members on a tour. The museum will be unveiled to the public during the grand opening ceremony from May 13 to 15. Visit sjmsmuseum.org for details.
“It is a sacred place,” he told the group.
A Vietnam War veteran and member of the VVA, Randolph has spent 38 years of his career nurturing the minds of junior high school cadets throughout high school. They came from Central America and many places across the country and the world.
Founded in 1887, the traditionally rich school for boys that opened 29 years after Salina’s founding and 26 years after Kansas gained statehood, SJMS closed in May 2019 after the graduation from the 131st Corps.
Reasons given were a low registration rate, higher costs and negative publicity – mainly due to legal issues – which contributed to both.
The campus was acquired by Saint Francis Ministries, but the use of the rectangular building that lines N. Ninth Street in Salina and housed classrooms for decades has been dedicated to the 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 Vietnam Memorial Wall named after U.S. Air Force Captain Dennis Pugh, of Saline County, who died in Laos on March 19, 1970.
The western end of the campus, including Linger Hall, has been reserved for the old military school.
The Old Boys Association, which disbanded in 2019, became the museum’s board of trustees and, with donations, turned Linger Hall into a special place of memory, said Mike Wagner, museum president. He graduated from the 1991 SJMS class, 103rd Corps. The cost of the project was not disclosed.
“Every penny that was spent on this came from anonymous donations. ” he said. “We did what we set out to do, preserve and display the artifacts and history of SJMS, for those who attended school and those who also cared for all of those children.”
Funds are still being raised to complete the exterior, including a teardrop-shaped walkway around the Muleskinner statue (the military school’s mascot) and the flag pole.
As donations allow, Wagner said, there is also hope for a parking lot at the northwest corner of the campus.
“There was a lot of sadness when the school closed,” Wagner said. “We didn’t have much choice but to try to keep all the good memories.”
Randolph admits the museum alleviates some of the pain of the school closing.
“At least they’re going to get something out of it,” he said. “They are going to use it. It won’t be just Saint Francis and that’s it.
A nearby resident, Randolph, misses the tap dancing, which was played at 10:15 p.m. each day, and church bells on Sunday mornings.
Looking at the new museum, Tretheway was satisfied with its development in less than two years.
“For us to have made a recovery and to have made it this far,” he said, “is quite remarkable. “
For questions about the grand opening, call Mike Wagner, chair of the museum’s board of trustees, at 785-259-5573.
To book tours of the museum after the opening, call Kent Tretheway, Director and Curator, at 316-371-9558
St. John’s Military Academy Historical Museum
Grand opening party
For more details visit SJMSmuseum.org
The museum is located at 110 W. Otis, in the Linger Room.
Address SJMS Museum
P.O. Box 3464
Salina, KS 67402-3464