A curiosity about the names of World War I soldiers on the 7-by-4-foot painting in the Peabody Township Library has set Virginia Skinner on a path into the past.
Skinner took up the somewhat daunting challenge of finding out what happened to the 176 service men from the Peabody area who survived the war. She has conversed or corresponded with descendants of 66 of them.
“It has been interesting,” she said. “I started with a couple names that I knew and made some calls. Those calls took me to other families and I’ve gotten wonderful information and stories about many of the soldiers.”
She checked first with local individuals such as Angel Torres, Ross Baker, Marvin Larsen, and Irvin McPheeters. She also checked the high school alumni directory for names of descendants she remembered from her own childhood and contacted many of them to learn about grandfathers and great uncles who fought “The War to End War.”
“Of course, some families knew very little, but others had passed information down through the generations. Many have done extensive genealogy work and had great stories to share,” she said.
Skinner informed all the descendants of the painting and the re-dedication ceremony on Saturday afternoon.
“Most of them indicated a desire to be here for the ceremony, but I don’t know for certain how many will make it,” she said. “After all, the war ended 93 years ago and even the grandchildren of the survivors are in their 60s and 70s!”
The program Saturday will begin at 1 p.m. on the library lawn. Sen. Jerry Moran was to speak, but had a change of plans and will not be able to participate. Paul Sandford, Commander of the Kansas American Legion will speak, as will several local individuals. The seven local men who died in the war will be given special recognition.
The painting will be on display from 9 a.m. until after the ceremony and from noon until 2 p.m. on Memorial Day for those who wish to view it.
An art historian recently evaluated the painting and termed it a “valuable piece of history.” Because it was painted on wood rather than canvass and because it hung on a wall with no direct sunlight, the painting remains in excellent condition.
However, Skinner said it still needs a cleaning and some restoration work if it is to survive for future generations to enjoy. The cost of preserving the painting will be between $4,000 and $5,000. There are no funds available through Peabody Township Library or Peabody Historical Society to pay for the restoration and preservation.
“We are hoping the re-dedication ceremony will be the kick-off for raising funds to save it,” said Skinner. “It really is a community treasure.”
Skinner said it has been rewarding to visit with so many of the descendants of the men listed on the painting. She plans to stay with the project in hopes of eventually reaching family members of each one.
“Of course we would like to see them support the restoration financially, but even if they don’t, at least they will know that their relative is named on this historic document,” she said. “That seems to matter a great deal to many of them.”