Community invited to Saturday's dedication of new flagpole at Sternberg Museum

This is how Dr. Jerry Choate tells the story of how Fort Hays State University's Sternberg Museum of Natural History came to have a flagpole:

One of the museum's volunteers, Wayne Pierson, came up to him one day shortly after Sept. 11, 2001, and said, "Doc, don't you think the museum ought to have a flagpole?" Choate told Pierson that he thought that was correct and that he would begin looking for one. It turned out to be a fairly long search, and Pierson and other volunteers and staff members at the museum periodically reminded Choate that the museum was still a major public facility without a flagpole.

Choate, director of the Sternberg Museum, went to Dan Heater, director of the university's Physical Plant. One thing led to another, Gross Memorial Coliseum was found to have an available flagpole, that flagpole was moved across town, and at 9 a.m. Saturday, May 24, the new flagpole will be dedicated in honor of all veterans but especially those of Iraqi Freedom.

Everyone is invited. Veterans will get free admission to the museum that day.

The ceremony will include an honor guard, comments from Choate, from Fort Hays State University President Edward H. Hammond, from frequent museum volunteer and retired Dean Virgil Howe of FHSU's College of Health and Life Sciences, and state Rep. Eber Phelps, D-Hays, who helped to get flags to raise on the flagpole.

Not on the speaking list is the man who instigated the hunt for a flagpole. Asked why, Pierson indicated that, basically, speaking to crowds is not something he seeks to do.

"And besides," he said, "Jerry was going to give a little speech, and I figured that's good enough."

Pierson served in the U.S. Navy from 1951 to 1958 and was in Korea during the conflict as a medic serving with Marine forces.

In August, he will complete four full years as an "active" volunteer at the Sternberg Museum, meaning regularly scheduled, frequent volunteers. There are now 63 "active" volunteers, said Patricia Duffey, coordinator of Volunteer Services at the museum. There are approximately another 230 people who volunteer occasionally.

Choate has said on many occasions that the museum simply could not function without the help of its corps of volunteers.

Pierson likes his volunteer duty because it is an opportunity to "meet people."

"And looking at all the dinosaurs and bones and learning about them," he added.

"As a matter of fact," he said, "I knew nothing at all about any of it when I started here."

He enjoys meeting people from different countries and states.

"It's interesting to get their input about what they think about the museum." He has met and talked to people from Australia, Holland, England, Germany, France, Japan and "even Russia."

Even local people don't realize all that the museum has to offer visitors and the community, he said, citing the economic impact of such exhibits as "A T. rex Named Sue" and the thousands and thousands of visitors she brought into Hays with the span of a few weeks.

Pierson is proud of the museum. He has been to many and says that the Sternberg is the nicest and cleanest he has ever seen.

And now, with a flagpole, it will be more complete.

He said he asked about the flagpole in the first place because he thought that, as a state-funded institution, the Sternberg Museum should have a flagpole and a U.S. flag to run up it.

"I just wanted to know why there wasn't a flagpole at the museum, and I guess I bugged everybody at the museum about it, and I guess I got the ball rolling because now there's a flagpole," he said.

"I think they got tired of me asking all the time."

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