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Longtime Museum Curator Stepping Down After 35 Years

CAPTION: After about 35 years as curator of the Grand River Historical Society Museum at 1401 Forrest Drive, Dr. John "Jack" Neal is stepping down. Neal served as finance chairman for the Grand River Historical Society's first fund-drive in the early 70s, which was instrumental in netting needed funds for the museum. In appreciation of Neal's efforts over the years, the Grand River Historical Society is presenting an honorary dinner, open to the public, for Neal at the Chillicothe Elks Lodge on Thursday, Oct. 23.

Dr. John "Jack" Neal isn't sure when he first became involved with Grand River Historical Society's museum, but he thinks it's been about 35 years ago. "Back then, our 'museum' was up in the library on the second floor," Neal reminisced, explaining that at that time three rooms were dedicated for display of local artifacts. Though not a member of the Grand River Historical Society, Neal became involved with the idea of having a building for an actual museum after listening to some advice given by friend and retired dentist, Dr. Myron Redd, upon Neal's retirement. "He advised me to keep busy - not to go to seed," Neal said, chuckling.

So Neal, now 86, kept busy and served as campaign chairman for construction of a museum - work that, appropriately enough, is historically significant in tracing the roots of the Grand River Historical Society building that now stands at 1401 Forest Drive. The idea of having a building dedicated for displaying local items of historical significance started in earnest in 1972. That's when, according to Constitution-Tribune records, the I.W. Waffle estate left $25,000 to the society for the construction of a museum with the stipulation that the society raise $25,000 within 10 years.

Time, Neal said, almost ran out before the community was able to match that mark. But in the end, the community (primarily comprised of individual donors) managed to come up with $25,000 in cash, with additional monies pledged. And, because the community met the Waffle match in the time allotted, Neal said the society was granted the residual of the Waffle estate - around $42,000, netting the society a total of over $92,000. So work shifted to coming up with a location on which to build a museum and again, the community came through. In 1977, the society received a gift from Murray Windle and his daughter, Pat Webber. The gift this time was a building and two adjoining lots on Irving Avenue at Forest Drive, formerly part of the Chillicothe Business College.

Chillicothean John Irvin, Neal said, advised the society to do some remodeling at the building and make their dream of a museum a reality. "He (John) said, 'Why not use that building - it's already energized and plumbed,' and that's what they (the society) decided to do," Neal said.

In October 1978, the Grand River Historical Society approved the conversion of the building into a museum, complete with a new colonial-style brick front facing west. The board voted to accept a $46,000 bid by the Irvinbilt Company for the conversion and authorized Society President Howard Leech to sign the contract. Once work had finished the facade and "very little remodeling inside" Neal said the 40-by-80-foot building featured a main exhibit hall, a room to the north (changed to a conference room in 2010) and a small library also to the north.

CAPTION: Dr. John "Jack" Neal extended his thanks to society members on Tuesday during a surprise and complimentary roast held in his honor at the Legion Home. During the regular quarterly meeting of the historical society, Neal was presented an award of appreciation for his 35 years of service to the museum.

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