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Monmouth College senior designs museum exhibits

Jeff Rankin
05/08/2017
Mainz explains his exhibit about Monmouth College in the Civil War on April 25 during Scholars Day.
Nick Mainz loves the great outdoors. An Eagle Scout who will intern for the Army Corps of Engineers after he graduates from Monmouth College this month, he hopes one day to work for the National Park Service. But much of his last semester at Monmouth has been spent in the great indoors.
 
As a history and classics major, one of Mainz’s capstone experiences was a history course called “Archives Practicum.” Under the guidance of College archivist Lynn Daw, he was tasked with creating three museum-quality exhibits, on which he spent an estimated total of 200 hours.
 
“My first assignment,” he said, “was to design a historic exhibit for a small display case in the lobby of Hewes Library. As a church-founded school, many students today are unaware that dancing at Monmouth was prohibited until the 1930s, so I gathered some materials to illustrate that history.”
 
Among those items were student petitions from the mid-1920s to allow dancing, and dance cards from student formals after the dancing band was listed.
 
Mainz’s second exhibit — a history of the College’s physics and chemistry departments — was significantly more challenging.
 
“The entry hall to the Center for Science and Business contains eight lighted exhibit cases on each side, and I was tasked with filling one entire side,” he said. “Although the building has been open since 2013, it has never had an exhibit specifically about the sciences at Monmouth, so this seemed like an obvious theme. Plus there are large poster prints on the walls above showing historical photos from chemistry and physics, so I decided to focus on those two departments.”
 
Mainz filled the cases with a timeline of photos, memorabilia and faculty biographies outlining the history of chemistry and physics. While the College archives is rich with memorabilia from Monmouth’s storied chemistry department, Mainz was surprised to discover that there was very little historic information about the physics department.
 
“Physicists apparently are more focused on looking forward than recording the past,” said Mainz.
 
To fill in some of the gaps, he interviewed retired physics professor Peter Kloeppel, who taught in the College’s first science building, McMichael Hall, during the 1960s. (The second science building, Haldeman-Thiessen, was used from 1971 until the Center for Science and Business was opened in 2013.)
 
One rewarding outcome of Mainz’s science exhibit was being complimented by 1955 Monmouth graduate Alan Larson, a physics major who worked in the space program and later taught mechanical engineering at the Georgia Institute of Technology. Larson happened to be visiting from Georgia and struck up a conversation with Mainz that included anecdotes about his years as a science student at Monmouth.
 
Mainz’s third project — designing an exhibit for a display case in what is known as the “museum corner” of the Center for Science and Business — was completed just in time for the annual Scholars Day on April 25.
 
“I had long been interested in the Civil War, and decided to research Monmouth College’s extensive participation in the conflict,” said Mainz.
 
He said that a total of 232 students, faculty and trustees fought for the Union. Of that number, 12 were killed in battle, 14 died in hospital and 26 were wounded.
 
The exhibit lists each of the casualties, along with the name of their unit and place and date of engagement. In addition, it includes portraits of 16 of those killed, along with two Medal of Honor recipients, a professor who served as chaplain and became a great-uncle of actor John Wayne, and College trustee Abner Harding, who led a company composed largely of Monmouth College students and received a brevet promotion to brigadier general at the decisive 1862 Battle of Fort Donelson, Tenn.
 
Mainz further enriched the exhibit with Civil War memorabilia borrowed from the Warren County History Museum, and during Scholars Day served as guide, dressed in a Union soldier’s uniform that he has gradually purchased at the annual Heritage Days reenactment at Galesburg’s Lake Storey.
 
One other display piece in the exhibit that was of particular interest to Mainz is the elevating screw for a Civil War cannon that was presented to Monmouth College by the Class of 1903. The cannon was stolen as a prank and spent 50 years at the bottom of Cedar Creek north of Monmouth, before being rescued in 1952 and restored in 1996.
 
“Students today don’t know the story of the cannon,” Mainz said, “and they don’t know or appreciate the extent of Monmouth’s participation in the Civil War.”
 
Mainz’s exhibits in the Center for Science and Business will remain on display through December.
 
In the meantime, Mainz will intern with the Corps of Engineers — for three months in Des Moines, Iowa, followed by three months in Waco, Texas. His duties will involve conducting surveys and planting trees.
 
Past experience has prepared Mainz well for the outdoors work. His Eagle Scout project involved cleaning and restoring headstones, as well as planting trees, in Monmouth’s Pioneer Cemetery. For two summers in college, he worked on Mormon archaeology excavations at Historic Nauvoo, Ill. He spent last summer hiking the Camino de Santiago, a 500-mile historic Christian pilgrimage from France to Spain.