A gentleman stopped by Neosho City Hall not long ago on business. While in the lobby, he checked out the display of lithographs by Neosho-born world famous artist Thomas Hart Benton (1889-1975).

He looked at them for a while and then told the receptionist up front, “I don’t know who drew those pictures, but tell him to keep at it!”

If man were immortal, Thomas Hart Benton would have turned 125 years old this April 15. As it was, he lived to 85. Every year, the Newton County Historical Society celebrates Benton life with a little birthday bash. This year’s event will be held at 2 p.m. April 12 at the Newton County Historical Park and Museum, 121 N. Washington, in Neosho. The Benton committee always puts a little twist on the theme and focuses on something related to Benton that you wouldn’t automatically think of. This year’s theme is the history of the Frisco Railroad and its ties to Neosho, particularly during Benton’s formative years growing up in Neosho. There will be a print exhibit of Benton artwork, a kids corner, collectible pins, refreshments, and a tour of the Thomas Hart Benton room at the museum. It’s all free, of course.

A lady I know has an autograph of both Harry S Truman and Thomas Hart Benton, signed on the sheet of paper, from when the two native Missourians visited Neosho to much fanfare in 1962. I haven’t asked her to bring it to this event, but I think I will. I’ve been wanting to see it anyway, so everyone else might as well too.

If you are already acquainted with Thomas Hart Benton’s life and work, this event on April 12 will be a good time to chat with other individuals who share an appreciation for Benton. If you don’t know much about him, this will be a good opportunity to learn more. The entire country is celebrating Benton’s 125th birthday in April. A good attendance to a small event by the folks from his hometown would be a nice gesture to the man and his legacy.

So mark your calendar - or create a calendar event on your computer, or set a reminder on your mobile phone - for 2 p.m. April 12 at the Newton County Historical Park and Museum. I will see you there!

Wes Franklin serves on the board of directors of the Newton County Historical Society. He can be reached at 658-8443.