DAYTON — The Miami Valley Military History Museum, currently located on the Dayton Veterans Affairs campus, is eyeing Fairborn as its next location. The museum, which houses artifacts owned by citizens of the Dayton area and surrounding communities, displays books and memorabilia of military history from World War II to the present day.
The primary reason the museum is seeking a new building is to be able to display as much of the memorabilia they have as possible. Mark Conrad started the museum started in 2000 as a traveling display. Originally collecting German artifacts from World War II, Conrad expanded into American artifacts by popular request. He and his wife, Catherine Beers-Conrad, acquired the building in 2007 from a group interested in historic preservation, and received donations for display cases and artifacts.
“After that, it spiraled out of control,” he said.
The museum receives tons of donations of military memorabilia every single week, and most of the items they receive typically date back to World War II.
“That group [of veterans] is rapidly dwindling, and in some cases they’ve already passed away, and their nephew or somebody like that will come across their things. They don’t want to throw it away, so we give it a home,” Conrad said.
The museum also receives donations from living military members and families who don’t want their items anymore.
“Not everything we receive is put up for display, but every item we receive is respectfully cared for,” Beers-Conrad said.
The existing building on the Dayton VA campus is 141 years old. For safety reasons, the Conrads can only use the first floor as the museum. The building only has a total of 2800 square feet, including bathrooms and office space.
“Once we have more space, we’ll be able to put a lot more out. As it is, we do periodic turnovers and swap things out,” Conrad said.
Additionally, despite being connected to the Dayton VA, the museum in its current location has difficulty being able to connect visitors to their location, according to former mayor and museum trustee Dan Kirkpatrick.
“I’ve made a point of asking people, ‘have you been out to the museum at the Dayton VA?’ and easily 95 percent of them say no,” Kirkpatrick said. “I say ‘why not?’ and surprisingly, most of them say it’s because they don’t have an ID card to get onto the VA campus. They think it’s part of the Department of Defense and you need an ID card, and they’re amazed when you tell them they don’t have to.”
The museum is already a member of the Fairborn Chamber of Commerce, and has received endorsement of the move from State Rep. Brian Lampton (R-Beavercreek) and State Sen. Bob Hackett (R-London). Fairborn mayor Paul Keller and the Fairborn City Council are also in favor, according to Kirkpatrick. The museum trustees are also hoping the presence of the museum in Fairborn will increase connections with Wright-Patterson Air Force Base and Wright State University.
“We believe there’s a lot of opportunity in Fairborn,” Conrad said.”Fairborn has got a lot of history to it, particularly during World War II, it’s tied closely to the base, so it’s got all the right oppportunities.”
“We really want to increase our connections to the base, we want to increase our connections to the university, and having a museum there does a lot of that,” Kirkpatrick said. “History majors at the university can have a facility that is ready-made for them to do research, help out with different projects, things like that.”
Among other contenders, the trustees have their sights set on the old American Legion building, a 14,000 square foot space that not only allows ample room for the museum, but presents an opportunity to host events and ceremonies there. The estimated cost for the building is $150,000-$200,000.
“My preference is downtown,” Beers-Conrad said. “I think we’ll serve a greater population if that’s where we are.”
“Speaking from the standpoint of a merchant downtown, museums enrich the culture of a city, and there’s no better fit for Fairborn than a military museum,” said Schwartz Jewelers owner Pete Bates, who volunteers at the museum. “It’s a natural fit. When I became aware of this, it just made so much sense for it to be up there.”
In addition to celebrating the heritage of the Fairborn area, Kirkpatrick hopes that the museum will become an integral part of the community there.
“Our veterans are the core of who we are as a country,” Kirkpatrick said.
“We don’t want people in Fairborn to say ‘Oh, we have a museum here,’ ” Conrad added. “We want them to say ‘That’s our museum.’”
The museum has a relocation deadline of Dec. 31, 2021, but the Conrads say they hope to have a ribbon-cutting in their new location by the summer of 2021.