I have long dreamed of creating a museum about the Big Piney River I loved so much, and bringing back to life the people who lived in the region I grew up in. I never thought it could happen. There just wasn’t a way to come up with the money needed when I was young. But that has changed.
I have been very fortunate with my writing over the past 25 years, with my own publishing company, successful magazines and books and newspaper columns. I want to give back to the people who made it possible for me to say that. Now, I feel like God is telling me to do it, and I am going to accomplish that in the last years of my life or die trying.
I feel that way after meeting a Nebraska sculptor by the name of Fred Hoppe on a chance meeting in a restaurant in Lincoln, Neb., a year ago. I had no idea who he was when he walked up and bought my dinner for me. He remembered me from a meeting we had when I was young, in 1978. I wonder now if that chance encounter was more than a coincidence, but something the Creator didn’t arrange. Hoppe is one of the most fascinating, intelligent and talented men I ever met. He is a nationally known sculptor who owns four museums, two of them in Branson. He has promised to come to Houston this fall to meet with local people and help me with my plans, giving me advice I need.
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I know many people think this is a project too expensive to accomplish. And an acquaintance told me, “too many people remember you as a kid that barely graduated, getting kicked of school often and peddling around Houston trying to sell golf balls an soda bottles. Now ‘the pool hall kid’ is going to build a museum?”
Well, if it gets done it won’t be just me. I truly believe God will help. I learned through a dream how to build the museum with lumber and logs that cost nothing. I have not been idle with this effort, already accumulating many of the huge logs to use in constructing it. I will have 200 soon. I have consulted with my cousin Butch McNew, the best fireplace builder in all the Ozarks and he said he would help with our fireplace, and I have talked to Rick Ichord, whom I have been told by many is the best builder from the Big Piney area. Both have promised to help make the building come to be more than a dream.
It isn’t just a coincidence that Mr. Ichord came to me and said he would help, before I ever knew who he was. I truly believe God is bringing people into my life that are of great importance in getting this done. I want to pour concrete footings for a 48 by 28 building by winter, and begin assembling the cedar logs before the first of next year. I think by spring we can be working on a wooden floor just like the old Ozark general stores had.
But I have to have one acre of land along Highway 63 north or south of Houston by the first of November for that to happen. Bennie Cook and the Houston Lions Club have a perfect location a mile north and have been trying to make that happen. Local Lions club members have been so encouraging and helpful, and if it was left to them I think I could start on it next week. But that is an international organization and I see no way that the sale of an acre of land can be proposed and approved this year.
The problem remains… where can I get an acre of land for the museum that is affordable? At this time there is good possibilities for land at Cabool and Licking. Naturally since I went to school in Houston, my first choice for the museum is there. BUT, it has to be along Highway 63 and nowhere else. We had a meeting in Houston last winter and about 25 enthusiastic people showed up, anxious to help. I would like to have another meeting in early September to explain exactly what my vision for this museum involves. Words can’t give a very thorough picture.
Remember this… it will be called the Ozarks Interpretive Center and Big Piney Museum, a beautiful cedar log building. There will never be an entrance charge, it will be free to all who come there, and inside, it will celebrate the fish and wildlife, the history of the river, the old timers of the region, and what they used to live a century and more ago. It will be a place where old timers like me can occasionally come and tell stories about the people we knew from another century.
I would like very much to have elderly people who make quilts, boat paddles, john-boats, hickory whistles etc. to come in on occasion to meet visitors from all over the nation who pass down Highway 63, and talk about the Ozarks and the way of life once found here. Maybe visiting archaeologists can come in to talk about the cave dwellers who lived on the river centuries ago. As for the exhibits, you can’t imagine how much I have now to put in it. I have collected material from this region and the river for 60 years. There is a tremendous amount, from and about the river and the people who lived on it’s watershed.
If you do not know, I was chief naturalist for the Arkansas Park system years back and I have experience in setting up ‘museums’ that we called ‘interpretive centers’. I know how to do that, and build big aquariums as well.
I don’t want any donations, and I will never ask anyone for money. I don’t need money nearly as bad as need your help and enthusiasm for the project. I don’t think anyone will question that at least this will have some economical benefit for Houston.
I need help finding that one acre. I have tried and failed. If there are those who think you can help me find it, please call me 417-777-5227. And help me set up a meeting place somewhere in Houston where we can have a meeting in September to explain to everyone what this museum will be, in the dreams where I see it finished and filled with those who stop just because it is there. It will be like nothing in the Ozarks, and though I am a writer, words can’t paint the picture of what see, what I think I can create, with the help of God and ordinary people.