PINEVILLE — She may live more than 1,800 miles away from the McDonald County line, but the Southwest Missouri community will always be home to Jean Stratton Bird.
Bird, a resident of Novato, Calif., returned home to her native McDonald County for Memorial Day weekend, to celebrate with the community the grand opening of the McDonald County Historical Society Museum.
And while the old courthouse-turned-museum, constructed in 1871 and located on the downtown square in Pineville, was a community effort, it holds a special place in Bird's heart.
The museum is now home to some of Bird's most cherished artifacts, military souvenirs from her late brother, husband and father's times in the service.
"I thought for a long time and I decided that the best thing for me to do would be to bring them home," said Bird, who grew up five miles northwest of Anderson. "My brother had been born and reared in this county and my husband had come in as a small boy to this county. We called it home when we were in the service."
Lynn Tatum, a member of the McDonald County Historical Society, said the military room is intended to honor the county's veterans who never returned home.
"We have so many, many people that gave their lives," Tatum said.
Hanging to one side of the military room is a white parachute, draped in the corner next to a framed portrait of a solider.
The man in the photo is Capt. Eldon E. Stratton, of the United States Army Air Corps, who died overseas at the age of 23.
Bird saved her brother's parachute, among other items from his time in the service.
"My brother had just gotten to Wheeler (Army) Field when Pearl Harbor was hit," Bird said. "The planes at Wheeler Field were just about wiped out. He went up later in a P-39 and got into an inverted tailspin and had to bail out. They're hard to get out of, but he got out of it."
The parachute he used to bail out is what hangs in the museum today.
In a nearby display case is a scarf given to her husband, Lt. Col. Grant M. Bird, when he was serving in the Korean War.
"During the Korean War he flew the unarmed helicopter and that was to pick up downed pilots and wounded, to take the wounded to MASH hospitals," Bird said. " Word came in for him to take a mission one day, he was called to pick up a downed Marine pilot."
Bird said when her husband reached the Marine, the man began shouting "go, go, go!" to her husband, as they continued to take fire.
"He got the Marine pilot out and the Marine pilot took his scarf off, gave it to my husband and, he said, 'I just want you to know that we Marines don't give these scarves up easily,'" Bird said. "So my husband kept it through the years."
Page 2 of 3 - Her husband was also taken as a prisoner of war while serving, and a the display features a book of photos about that as well, in addition to the dog tags that belonged to her father, Earl F. Stratton, a World War I veteran.
Tatum said Bird's artifacts that are now proudly displayed in the county's new museum are in such condition that they could have gone to much larger museums.
"She has dedicated her life to the preservation of the artifacts and she has done such a beautiful job they could've gone to any museum she would've chosen," Tatum said.
Bird said she considered national museums in Dayton, Ohio and New Orleans, La., however, in the end, she believed it was best to return her loved one's possessions to their home in McDonald County.
"I used to worry at night what to do with them," Bird said. "I thought a long time and it just became clear to me one night, 'take them home to the county where they grew up.' I believe I did the right thing. I hope so."
The historic building, which operated as the McDonald County Courthouse from 1871 until the new courthouse was constructed in 1976, will now serve the community as the McDonald County Historical Society and Museum.
While the community gathered to celebrate the renovation and grand opening of the old courthouse on Saturday, the building wasn't always seen by all as an important landmark.
With the construction of the new courthouse in the 1970s, plans were made to raze the old building.
Talk of tearing down the structure officially ceased in 2010, when the McDonald County Historical Society entered into a contract with the McDonald County Commission.
Historical Society members and volunteers began the restoration process in 2011, and in 2012 were successful in getting the building added to the National Register of Historic Places.
Tatum said she has been "amazed" by the outpouring of support the society has received.
"Everyone seems to want to be a part of this," Tatum said. "It's like a container for all the stories that people want to tell. It's a community building and people have responded with their money, their talents, their artifacts, their furniture, their time. I have just been amazed and pleased with the community wanting to be part of this."
Among the museums offerings are a room dedicated to the making of the Jesse James movie, a wall of photos dedicated to telling the story of McDonald County's past communities, and across the hall, a wall filled with information on all of the county's present communities, complete with a large map displaying their locations throughout the county.
"It's a historic building that means so much to so many," Tatum said.
Page 3 of 3 - GRAND OPENING
The grand opening of the McDonald County Historical Society and Museum continues today and Monday from 10 a.m. until 4 p.m.
Today's theme is "History Appreciation" and will feature a bucking bull all day, grilled chicken dinners from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., music by Trilogy at 12:45 p.m., and a veteran's recognition service from 2 to 4 p.m. The recognition service will include a presentation of the colors by Pineville American Legion Post 392 and an old-fashioned USO presentation.
On Monday, the "History Celebration" will kick off with a horseshoe tournament, with sign-ups from 10 to 10:30 a.m. with play beginning at 10:30 a.m.
There will also be a bucking bull all day, and a music jamboree from 10 a.m. until 5 p.m. featuring barber shop style music, The Jazz Master, Rich Roberts, Tony Burgkoetter, Josh Jennings Band and Faithful Heart.
Pulled pork barbeque sandwiches will be available from 11 to 3 p.m. and the raffle ticket will be drawn at 4 p.m. to decide the winner of a Doug Hall painting.
A silent auction will also run today and Monday and the emporium inside the historic courthouse will remain open both days.