CHINA GROVE — Bobby Mault is the visionary behind the Price of Freedom military museum.
“I’ve got it all in my head, if I can get it out,” he says.
Slowly but surely — and the emphasis should be on surely — Mault, Frank Albright and their faithful volunteers are building a one-of-a-kind military museum in Rowan County’s back yard.
Room by room, following a road map that’s been in Mault’s head for years, they are transforming the 1936 Patterson School into a place that honors those who served.
The museum will once again hold a Memorial Day celebration from 9 a.m.-3 p.m. Saturday on the school grounds near the intersection of Weaver and Patterson roads.
The East Rowan ROTC will start things off with a 9 a.m. flag-raising ceremony at the front of the old school. The rest of the day offers food, lots of restored military vehicles and tours of the museum, which has been host over recent years for 5,000 fifth-graders from Rowan-Salisbury Schools.
The newest addition to the main school building are scores of military-themed paintings done by local artist John Hartley. Mault has filled both sides of the school building’s main hallway — and some rooms — with Hartley’s artwork.
“I really want them (visitors) to know about these pictures,” Mault says.
Visitors to the free celebration Saturday will be encouraged to tour the school building and see how the museum is progressing.
Many of the military artifacts, photographs of local veterans and their uniforms are on display in what was once the school’s cafeteria annex. But in Mault’s vision, the annex museum — though quite impressive in its own right — is only temporary.
He’s working toward the day when all the exhibits will reside in the main 1936 school building and the cafeteria annex will be transformed to a USO-type canteen.
In the main school building, separate rooms will be devoted to the Navy, Army, Marine Corps and Air Force. (The Navy room already is finished.)
Another classroom, now being used for presentations to the fifth-graders, shows what a classroom was like in the 1930s, when Patterson School was home to eight grades.
On the walls, the classroom includes pictures and uniforms of soldiers who went to school at Patterson. The names include Sloop, Albright, O’Neill, Harris, Yost and Bradshaw.
The original kitchen-dining area will be transformed into three rooms, depicting what life was like back home during World War II. Mault plans to fill the school’s old library with all the military- and war-related books, magazines and newspapers people have donated to the museum.
In the vast acreage behind the school, which someone mows for free, Mault hopes high school ROTC programs will someday use the spot as a parade grounds.
He also has an outside stage planned behind the cafeteria annex.
Mault spends entire evenings at the school sometimes, deciding exactly how things should be displayed. He often walks out of a room and tries to come back looking at it from a first-time visitor’s point of view.
Or you might find Mault painting the walls, hanging pictures or cleaning the school’s wooden floors with Orange Glo.
The floors still show the scrapes and scars of their school years.
“To me,” Mault says, “that represents wars, the Depression, cotton fields … When I put the Orange Glo on it, this school was coming back to life.”
What remains special about the Price of Freedom Museum is that everything on display has been donated, as well as all the labor and expensive upgrades, such as new gutters, heating and air-conditioning units and a security system.
“People just keep bringing things,” says Mault, whose idea for the museum sprang years ago from a corner of his service station, where he displayed local veterans’ uniforms and war artifacts.
“Let me tell you, this is original.”
There has never been a charge, either, for visiting the museum, which is open by appointment and on Sunday afternoons.
Mault has always followed a simple principle when it comes to finding volunteers for the museum. He never tells a person what they could do. Rather, he gives them time to suggest a change or follow through better on something he has begun.
“That’s where you get your help,” he says. “I may start something, but I have a lot of people who help me finish it.”
Organizations have stepped up as sponsors for various rooms, such as the Food Lion office staff and the Millbridge Ruritans.
Mault, 78, always asks visitors what they see as positives and negatives to the museum. But he has refrained from appointing an advisory board.
“Advice is good,” he says, “but I want to finish my vision.”
In other words, he wants to keep things moving and not risk being slowed down by a board’s bureaucratic approach.
“There’s no limit to what this can be,” Mault says.
Contact Mark Wineka at 704-797-4263.