The 100 Mile Yard Sale on southeast Missouri’s Highway 25 is a treasure trove of vintage and one-of-a-kind finds that draws thousands of bargain hunters every year on Memorial Day weekend.
One of the hidden gems along Highway 25 is the National Stars and Stripes Museum and Library in Bloomfield. Inside a modest building are exhibits dedicated to the preservation and history of Stars and Stripes, the nation’s daily military newspaper that got its start in 1861 when Union troops published the first issue, a four-page tabloid.
It’s a cause that SEMO Electric Cooperative has helped support for several years as the museum tries to raise $2 million to $3 million for an endowment fund and another $85,000 for a capital campaign. The museum wants to raise its national profile and expand facilities to store its vast collection of artifacts, photographs and, of course, newspaper archives.
“The newspaper was important to people who served because it was their lifeline to home,” said Sean Vanslyke, CEO and general manager of the Sikeston-based co-op. “It’s important that we preserve a place like this because if we don’t, it will disappear and somebody will look back and wish we had done something.”
SEMO’s support for the museum has included on-site community service projects, rebates for LED bulbs and, most notably, donations of smart TVs and installation of a high-speed fiber internet connection from its broadband subsidiary, GoSEMO Fiber.
“We have five employees, and now all five can be on their computers at once,” said Laura Dumey, the museum’s administrator, adding that board members can now meet on Zoom and visitors can watch programs streamed on the TVs.
“One bulb costs $28, and we have more than 100 in the museum, so the rebates have been amazing,” Dumey said.
Vanslyke isn’t officially on the museum’s board—although he’s been asked—but calls himself an “ad hoc” member. The co-op has financially supported the Spirit of Democracy, a major annual fundraiser, and other efforts, too.
Jim Martin, the museum’s past president, tells a story about the depths of SEMO’s involvement during a 2019 Spirit of Democracy event that attracted its largest-ever crowd.
“We had some 600 people there, and I think they all arrived at exactly the same time,” Martin recalled. “So, we had a little issue with getting people seated. While trying to get things organized, I turned around and there’s Sean and his wife, Debbie, seating people. He was doing this for 15 to 20 minutes, trying to make sure people got seated. It was so wonderful because it shows you what a great gentleman he is and how committed he is to our success.”
The museum is small but packs a lot inside its walls to tell the story of American military history from the Civil War to today—all from journalists’ perspectives.
“This isn’t what you’d see in Chicago or Washington, D.C.,” said Vanslyke, the grandson of two World War II veterans. “It’s more of a hometown museum because we just don’t have the resources. There’s so much inside, but you have to get in the door, go around a corner and then start looking.”
Victoria A. Rocha is a staff writer at NRECA.