Gruber Shares Story of Keepers of Freedom

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Steve Gruber points to part of the Spicer Brothers exhibit at the Garst Museum.

GREENVILLE — Garst Museum is known for its wonderful exhibits on Annie Oakley, Lowell Thomas, and Greenville’s early days when it was nothing more than wilderness and a fortification known as Greene Ville, but there is one area of the museum that stands above the others, literally. In the upstairs portion of the original Garst home is where you will find many of Darke County’s heroes, including several Medal of Honor recipients. 

The Keepers of Freedom exhibit takes visitors from the War of 1812 through the present, and if you are fortunate enough, you can get a tour of the exhibit from Docent Steve Gruber.

According to Garst Museum CEO Dr. Clay Johnson, Gruber has taken an active role in helping improve the exhibit over the years. 

Gruber is emphatic about the need to recognize our veterans for their service, “The people that serve America and our county need to be highlighted. That’s the least we can do in respect to their service to our country.”

A retired educator, Gruber especially enjoys providing information to the fourth graders who tour the museum with their school. “I really want to emphasize to them as they look around that the price of freedom isn’t free. I keep coming back to that theme. Some of the individuals that are showcased here on the second floor of the museum gave their lives.” 

Although Gruber is drawn to the World War II exhibit, he said it is the people who were in the military at key points in history that draw visitors in and give them the desire to learn more about their stories. Garst Museum has several of those people highlighted in the Keepers of Freedom Exhibit.

One of those is Lt. Colonel Paul Thornhill. Without a doubt, Nov. 22, 1963, is considered a key point in America’s history. It is a day that shaped our future. Many people can tell you exactly where they were on the day when President John F. Kennedy was assassinated. Lt. Colonel Thornhill had a front-row seat for many of the things that took place after the assassination. He was Vice President Lyndon Johnson’s pilot, and on that day, he began his tenure as the pilot of Air Force One when Johnson was sworn in as president on the aircraft he was flying. 

Gruber also pointed to an event that led America into World War II. “We have the individual who sent the first telegram back to Washington, D.C. from Hawaii informing them of the attack at Pearl Harbor. That’s a unique point of history, and there was a Darke Countian involved in that,” he said.

Another Darke County native made history and paved the way for other women by becoming the first woman to fly an Apache helicopter. 

Gruber admits the museum was late in recognizing some of Darke County’s heroes. One of the newest exhibits recognizes the five Spicer brothers. The Longtown natives served in World War II at the same time. “What stands out to me is that it is incredible for a family to have five of their sons involved in World War II, serving their country, at a time when African Americans and Black people didn’t have a right to vote, not allowed to go into the public restroom or [drink from] public water fountains, but yet they were willing to possibly sacrifice their lives for a country who was not treating them as well as they should have been treated. That’s a huge story. I don’t want people to miss that.”

Garst Museum is continuing its research on the Spicer brothers, Roy, Dewey, Cecil, Russell, and Edward. All five brothers have passed away – Roy (2011) served in the U.S. Army; Dewey (1991) served in the U.S. Navy; Cecil (2018) was a Tuskegee Airman and served in the U.S. Army Air Corps; Russell (1988) U.S. Marine Corp.; and Edward (2019) served in the U.S. Army.

All of these stories and many more are being told in the Keepers of Freedom exhibit at Garst Museum.

Visit the Garst Museum’s Facebook Page, https://www.facebook.com/GarstMuseumandTheNationalAnnieOakleyCenter/, to see the video of Steve Gruber discussing The Keepers of Freedom exhibit and plan your visit to learn more about Darke County’s heroes.

Garst Museum/National Annie Oakley Center is open Tuesday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Visit www.garstmuseum.org for more information.