Rain fails to dampen Grand Opening

Tuesday, May 24, 2016
Ken Reinhardt, left, his wife, Judy and fellow unsung hero, Ann Williams Wedaman look at the exhibition of their story of compassion during the civil movement of the late 1950s. To the right in the photo are photos of Reinhardt and Wedaman during their time at the all-white high school that was being integrated. (Loretta George/Tribune)

Rain may have changed the venue for the day, but it did not dampen the spirit of those who came to celebrate the grand opening of the Lowell Milken Center for Unsung Heroes at 1 S. Main.

The lightning and heavy rain Tuesday morning changed the venue to the Liberty Theater.

A large crowd braved the heavy rain, working their way to the theater, bypassing the large white tent set up at Main and Wall streets for the ceremony.

Founder Lowell Milken looks at a new exhibit at the Lowell Milken Center of Unsung Heroes following the ribbon cutting Tuesday morning. (Loretta George/Tribune)

At the theater Lowell Milken Center Executive Director Norm Conard welcomed each speaker- a representative of the heroes discovered by students, representatives of education, a representative of the City of Fort Scott and Founder Lowell Milken.

Each speaker thanked Lowell Milken and Conard for their vision and action in creating the center.

Milken thanks the community.

Interspersed throughout the Lowell Milken Center for Unsung Heroes Exhibition Hall are quotes from people involved with the center, such as this one by a student. (Loretta George/Tribune)

The center could only be born out of a community that values education, history and diversity, Milken said.

"When Norm and his students started this amazing chain of events by discovering Irena Sendler, this Kansas community embraced teachers and students with open arms," Milken said. "More than a million students have already participated in the rigor and adventure of discovering heroes that have overlooked by history books."

Thanks to the scholarship,creativity and resources that will come through the Lowell Milken Center, more students, educators and communities will have the opportunities, Milken said.

"History, to be useful, must be explored, its context and challenges," Milken said. "But most of all how certain individuals responded and shaped the events. Individuals of courage and conviction and perseverance and compassion...who by their actions changed the course of history."

"Real heroes tower and guide," Milken said. "But their stories need to be discovered and told."

There is opportunity to motivate new generations to aspire to values that are essential during the historic times in our nation and as a world community, Milken said.

"That is the purpose of the Center for Unsung Heroes," Milken said.

Milken asked the audience to consider what change can be created to improve lives of others.

City of Fort Scott

For nine years the LMC for Unsung Heroes has enriched the entire community, Fort Scott Economic Director Heather Smith said.

Following the devastating 2005 downtown fire, the space sat vacant for 10 years.

"The new hall of unsung heroes will not only inspire students, educators and visitors but it is a testament to the creative energy that exists in Fort Scott," Smith said. "It's transformative potential is real...(with) a global reach."

Commissioner of Education

Kansas Commissioner of Education Dr. Randy Watson said that "Students are more than just a standardized test on one day."

Kansan's have told his education commission that character, civic engagement, giving back to others and conscientiousness are highly valued.

"Skill sets that are learned when you delve into learning about things bigger than yourself," Watson said. "The richness that we find when we delve into the personalities of people and the unsung heroes of this state and across this nation."

Watson thanked Milken for investing in education across the United States,and especially in Kansas. He thanked Conard for his "energy and enthusiasm to make sure this took place and that this stands for all the things we want to do....for the future of education across the state."

LMC fellow

Lowell Milken Fellow Dyane Smokorowski said the center is a place for teachers, students and now the public to be inspired.

An educator is a "lead facilitator among young people," she said. "I cannot wait to see what this does for young people...Thank you Mr. Milken for bringing this magic to Kansas. To Norm I can't wait to see what you inspire others to do."

Executive director

A vision is recognizing opportunities and acting on them, Conard said.

"We have someone who generates greater success with vision in education," Conard said of Milken.

"Because of him, we are beginning a new era at the Lowell Milken Center which we'll share with the world. Role models, unsung heroes and about what can be done in our schools and communities for education," Conard said.

Unsung hero

One of the fraternity of unsung heroes, Ken Reinhardt, was one of those who stood up to the injustice of racism at an Arkansas high school in the late 1950s.

"Since Norm and his three Uniontown High School students came into our lives, I no longer qualify as unsung," Reinhardt said. "Our experience at History Day in 1996 has been chronicled in major newspapers, television, magazines, radio programs and even a high school textbook. Since these students reunited us with Elizabeth Eckford we have had the opportunity to tell our shared experience in countless schools, churches, black history events and so on."

Eckford was a young black woman who volunteered to integrate an all-white southern high school in the 1950s and suffered much for that decision.

"Elizabeth Eckford began her long way back from PTSD with the challenges and opportunities that began with the 1996 coverage," Reinhardt said. PTSD stands for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

"She is a remarkable woman who would have languished in the shadows if Norm and his students had not brought her into the light. You and I would have been poorer for it."

Who are the real unsung heroes? Reinhardt asked.

"Is it the stories and faces you see? Or is all the young lives that have brought them out of anonymity. Irena Sendler referred to her story tellers as her angels. We thank you founders, staff, fellows, teachers, students and those yet to be storytellers and angels."